Image Credit: Elizabeth Farrell
BY MAILE SHANTI
This year has already seen dramatic weather events and even more damning scientific evidence that humanity’s impact on the earth is far more devastating than what most of us might think. The issue itself seems too big to even begin to comprehend sometimes, with many finding it hard to connect to the issue personally or make a difference when the underlying feeling can sometimes lead to a sense of utter helplessness. 2017 has not been shy of tumultuous events and legislation. Already we have seen: a proposed bill to ban asylum seekers from ever entering Australia, complete climate change denial from the US to Australia, a rise in racist far-right parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, and – with a predicted global flood of environmental refugees in our near future, these political ideologies will surely cause countless humanitarian crisis worldwide.
I find myself questioning as I scroll down Facebook viewing article headlines that make me want to never go outside, how can art and activism help raise and contribute awareness to global warming issues? How can we use the power of art to shift the viewer’s gaze from helplessness to empowerment? How can we awaken the mind and bring attention to the secrets and closed doors, to the deniers and skeptics?
The voices and minds of the next generation are paving the way for a turnaround that could just save us. Over the past few years a large increase in youth have begun to speak out and change lifestyle habits to benefit the environment. Just two years ago, young Xiuhtezcatl Martinez sued the American government for their failure to act on climate change using the public trust doctrine. Through hip-hop and voice he now travels the world to inspire the next generation to begin looking at the implications of our lifestyles and consequences that our parents are leaving us with. Speaking to Triple J’s Hack, he stated, “ [The court] denied the motion to dismiss. Twenty-one young people overcame a multi-billion-dollar industry and one of the most powerful governments in the world.” The court case is still ongoing. In London, Elizabeth Farrell, more commonly known as Glacier Girl is tackling issues through photography and art, using social media as her ally, by “adapting the aesthetic of ‘eco- friendly’ to appeal to the iGeneration and the uncountable generations to come”.
Throughout history we have seen art and activism work together through festivals, campaigns and protests. Take for example, Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s staged bed sit in against war with their famous slogan ‘make love not war’. In the 1960’s it was the voice of the inspiring Nina Simone that brought a great catalyst of discussion throughout the civil rights movement. And it was Vivienne Westwood that constantly shone a light on climate political activism through her designs on and off the catwalk. What sometimes is ostracised and demeaned by a wider audience is often the very thing that brings to light major issues that need changing. Another example of this can be seen in the acclaimed Lemonade album by Beyonce, which speaks about bringing power to black women and the ongoing violence against black bodies in America. Through her videos and music, Beyonce created a huge shift and empowered millions of people around the world.
When it comes to the environment however, it is very easy for the viewer to immediately categorise anyone interested in sustainability and climate change as being a hemp wearing, tree hugger (which should not even be a criticism in the first place, hemp really is fantastic). We must first establish the relationship between the viewer and the message. Which in many ways has begun to happen over the past few years with celebrities on high platforms using their voice to promote a greater change through fashion, media campaigns and music. Just as, only a few years ago, feminism was stereotyped and belittled, the rise in artists and the shift in gaze created a new dialogue and essentially a new wave of feminism to arise.
When speaking of environmentalism, art helps simplify the complex problems that we face as much more digestible; a spoonful of art makes the imminent destruction of our planet sink in. Through art, we can examine the problem whilst also harnessing the introspective nature of art and seeing ourselves in the picture. Last year, Leonardo Dicaprio and Emma Watson (along with a huge list of other incredible humans) spoke about two issues involving climate change that were then heard throughout the world, and probably to a lot of people who might not have ever heard it. Dicaprio described his work on his film Before The Flood, as “An account of the changes occurring around the world due to climate change” – which he then aired for free. Watson, who created the feminist campaign HeforShe, has been a huge voice and advocate for wearing and recycling clothing, through speaking of the devastating impact that fast fashion has on both people and the environment.
I have personally struggled coming to terms with my generation’s imminent loss of land, water and freedoms that we will face. Around the globe countries, activists and organisations speak out against massive corporations who refuse to look at another option and another way of operating that doesn’t cost the earth. The only way that I can see through this dark tunnel, is through the glimpses that I may catch of someone with a vision, that ignites the torch and uses their power to discuss ways of moving forward; ways of creating a change.
In almost every instance, these sparks of hope draw on art as a vehicle with which to connect deeply and significantly with a wide audience. The expression of human emotion using creative skill and imagination, the expression of voice without words, emotions without race or colour. A way forward.
What needs to happen now, is a shift in political power and a shift in building more community minded space. The continuing growth of youth involved in activism and climate change cannot be ignored. There is too much at stake.