How can art change our perspective on climate change and its victims?
Artwork can reimagine our current world to shift the perspectives of its viewer. This is particularly poignant in discussions on current affairs, such as climate change. Through their artistic license, artists can provide an alternate perspective that visualises the complexities of the crisis in a digestible manner. The injustice deep-rooted within climate change is rarely revealed within the contemporary media, but artworks can attempt to fill in those gaps for public understanding.
Art can emphasise the intertwining between humanity and nature
The primary representations of climate change have been typical visuals of the polar bear on a melting ice cap, or smoke stacks within a landscape. However, the crisis is embedded within a deep relationship between nature and humanity that often gets overlooked. John Akomfrah’s six channel immersive video Purple interweaves visuals of disappearing landscapes to highlight the implications of climate change on human communities and the natural world alike. The work explores the effects of the crisis on biodiversity, wilderness and humanity.
John Akomfrah, Purple (2022), at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_(2017_video_installation)
Artists can highlight climate change’s inextricable link with racism...
Indigenous communities, black communities and people of colour (“BIPOC”) are most vulnerable to our changing climate. Some argue that today’s environmental emergency stems from a history of white supremacy and colonialism. Rogers Ouma's series, A Sacred Future explores the relationship between man, nature and the land that BIPOC communities have sought to protect and preserve for future generations. Ouma’s photographs can be read as highlighting this relationship as sitting opposite to the white man who exploits the earth; therefore discussing the intertwining between climate justice and racial justice.
…and with gender inequity while empowering those vulnerable
Women and girls are on the frontlines of the crisis; with their overall lack of power and access globally putting them at risk. Lesley Thiel’s work highlights their vulnerability while speaking of the strength of the upcoming generation of young women and girls. Flame shows a young girl with a crown of dead flowers, as they are in her hand. She stands in a smoky landscape, as the flora smoulders and burns. Floral wreaths in a maiden’s hair are a symbol of renewal and hope for the future.
Artists can show climate victims as being both close…
Artworks can bring forward an alternative viewpoint for audiences to better understand victims. Kristian Buus, photojournalist, captures the activists who seek to override this and protest against lack of governmental action. Stop Killing Londoners voices those protesting against the thousands of Londoners, and people in major UK cities, who die every year from air pollution mainly from diesel emissions. The activism imbued within Buus’ visual sits within its extending of a moment of political anguish and rebellion. It brings forward the point that climate change victims are not just polar bears but real people who live as normally as those viewing the photograph.
…and experiencing impacts afar now
Current perspectives can stipulate that climate change impacts are looming in the future; when in actuality, many are (and have been) experiencing the crisis’ palpable effects for years. This makes current victims of climate change invisible. Emel Çevikan’s After Tsunami works to create visibility for the victims of climate change that might miss primary media and news outlets. Disasters occurring across the world are often out of the vision of wealthier nations who are the likely culprits. Mozambique, for example, was shown in the 2021 Global Climate Change Performance Index to be at most risk, and is regularly affected by natural disasters. However, the East African country produces one of the lowest global emissions. Artwork can work against this time and space based invisibility.