Sometimes, conveying the climate change crisis that we face today requires more than just facts and numbers. At this point we’re all aware of the issue, but we lack the incentive or motivation to do something about it unless we feel emotionally connected to it. Art, no matter which form, has the potential to bring environmental challenges to a humanistic standpoint that individuals of all ages and backgrounds can resonate with. It has the power to connect all of us on a deeper level which can result in collective action and collaboration towards positive change. Research has also found that perceiving art demands attention, and processing art requires parts of the brain that aren’t normally accessed by typical communications about climate change. Here, we highlight a few local and international artists and their engaging artwork that bring environmental awareness.
The installation above titled “Super-Natural” is by Han Seok Hyun, displayed at the Karachi Biennale 2017 – Pakistan’s largest contemporary art event that takes place every two years. In this installation, Han created a landscape from mainstream green products that were locally-sourced.
He says: “It is, of course, no coincidence that so many companies use the color green to package allegedly healthy goods; marketers associate it with harmony and peace, growth, luck, and energy. The title Super-Natural, a nod to the supermarkets in which these products are sold and to the elevated properties they are claimed to possess, reminds us that these products may be greener in color than in substance. Green hues are often used to make unhealthy products seem more acceptable to impressionable shoppers, and words like natural and healthy have little or no correlation to a product’s contents or to the practices used to produce them.” Apart from making a bold statement about brands and companies that partake in “green-washing”, Han’s installation also symbolizes mass-production and mass-consumption and makes us think about the impact it has on our environment.
German artist Liina Klauss lives between Hong Kong and Bali, specializing in large-scale environmental art installations using man-made and natural waste as the primary material. She attempts at finding a visual language for the pervasive impact of humans upon the natural world; “I want to show people a different perspective on what we consider rubbish”, she says.
In Bali, she worked with the popular Potato Head Beach Club’s team to find and pick one specific item: flip-flops. Surprisingly enough, she found that these synthetic footwear were one of the most common items that got washed ashore in her 6 beach clean-ups — they were able to collect 5,000 pieces! Liina then organised these into groups of matching colors, as she usually does with most of her waste, and built an installation named ‘5,000 Lost Soles’ in the shape of an ocean wave with the help of some recycled plastic thread. During the summer of 2018, the piece grabbed the attention of thousands of visitors entering Potato Head Beach Club, serving as a gentle reminder that the things we so mindlessly purchase and wear can easily pollute our seas and threaten marine life.
Spotted on a wall at the Time Out Market in Brooklyn, New York, a thought-provoking piece titled “Is It Worth It?” by Allison Dayka. As a creative, her goal is to bring awareness to controversial topics and social norms through visually appealing artwork that conveys a message. Here, a crying baby sits atop a mound of single-use plastic bottles against the New York City skyline, wearing a romper by a mainstream fashion brand, Supreme. It depicts our consumerist culture and constant desire for new, hyped things even if it’s not necessary, just for the sake of conforming to social norms – which comes at a hefty cost to ourselves and the environment. “Next time you purchase a water bottle, or a bag of chips, whatever it is, ask yourself one thing — is it worth it?”, says Allison.
Karachi’s renowned agriculturalist and environmentalist, Tofiq Pasha, is highly passionate about nature and has made several efforts in fighting or communicating the climate crisis. His installation made of dead trees for the Karachi Biennale 2019 is a remorseful representation of the city’s ecological state. He says “for someone whose roots stem from nature and has worked for the environment all his life in a city like Karachi, I’ve seen nothing but destruction of ecology.”
To conclude, art allows people to visualize the issue at hand and give them a personal experience with the subject-matter, which is important considering many people still see climate change as an abstract issue that carries no direct threat. Art may also succeed in giving members of our community a social identity and a sense of being supported in their efforts towards environmental challenges.