Artivism and the Environment: The significance of Art in the Climate Crisis

Artivism and the Environment: The significance of Art in the Climate Crisis

Artivism and the Environment: The significance of Art in the Climate Crisis

People often think of protests, renewable energy, and sustainability when thinking of climate change. But where does art come into place on this? Art has played an essential role in [addressing] social issues throughout history. Activism and art go hand in hand. That is where the portmanteau of Artivism comes from, a combination of activism and art. While art can invoke a sense of aesthetic pleasure, at its root, it can also invoke an emotional response from the public. An excellent artistic piece can communicate a message while changing our perceptions, often in subtle ways. Sometimes, we don’t understand what we see, but it still elicits a response, the viewer. That is why art is a great way to engage an audience. Combining art with topics like climate change and biodiversity loss paves a new path in activism. 

A brief history of Artivism

Artivism was thought to have emerged in the early 1960s from the Chicano Art Movement. Chicano art was considered the art of struggle (Pantelić, 2016). His art depicted the struggle of Mexican Americans in that it reflected themes of inequality, immigration, and feelings of displacement. It consisted of mural paintings emphasizing community members’ participation (Pantelić, 2016). The Chicano Art Movement movement led to a unified Chicano community, a strong identity within the United States. Another aspect of it was that it allowed Chicano women to break out of the stereotypes held by the public at the time and within the Chicano community itself (Duncan, 2021). Artists like Patssi Valdez, Barbara Carrasco, and Yolanda Lopez were prominent in depicting Chicano women of the time (Duncan, 2021).

Chicano Art and Representation of the Female Identity by Sydney Duncan

Artvism depicting Environmental issues 

There has been a surge of artivism and art surrounding sustainability, climate change, and environmental disasters depicting environmental issues. A great example is the art piece Birds Watching by Jenny Kendler. The piece is a 40-foot sculpture that depicts one hundred reflective eyes of birds. (Kendler, 2018). Each eye belongs to an endangered species of a bird. While the piece is mesmerizing, it also has a strong message. While viewing the work, the viewer feels the art is watching them. Kendler describes the mutual gaze as a reciprocal act.

Artivism and the Environment: The significance of Art in the Climate Crisis
Birds Watching by Jenny Kendler

We default to the objective eye when we see things based on stereotypes and often classify the birds as spectacles. Kendler states that “We cannot solely be spectators in this age of the Anthropocene when our empathy for other beings—or lack thereof—has itself become an ecological force. Truly seeing can be a first step towards practicing a renewed ethos of mutualism and care” (Kendler 2018).

Artivism often reflects on the socio-political climate of the period. That’s why so many art pieces emerged from movements like the Civil rights and Chicano movements. In a similar trend, as more people are becoming concerned about the environment, more art focusing on environmental messages is expected. Eventually, art depicting environmental issues will have as much impact as other forms of Artivism. 

Artivism addressing Environmental issues 

We can combine science and Artivism to address environmental issues. An example is the Nevada Rivers Project by Daniel McCormick and Mary O’Brien. They built a 360-foot sculpture made of willow branches on a watershed in Nevada (Hill, 2018). This structure uses natural materials from the surroundings and benefits the environment simultaneously. The sculpture prevents erosion, provides a habitat for creatures (like turtles), and improves the water quality (Hill, 2018). Projects such as this can be the new face of environmental Artivism. 

Artivism and the environment
River Fork Ranch Flood Plain Wall. Photo by Daniel McCormick & Mary O’Brien. Courtesy of Watershed Sculpture

Exploring the history of Artivism and some art pieces, with the example of Birds Watching by Kendler, we can see how art can create awareness of an issue. It also allows us to contemplate how we view nature and birds. A direct combination of science and art was used in the Nevada Rivers Project by McCormick and O’Brien. They showed that while people appreciate the scientific side of activism, we can connect emotionally to the artistic side. I believe this is what the majority of activism will be like in the future, a combination of science and art. This combination will bring in a new wave of awareness for environmental subjects while helping the environment at the same time. 

Citations

Duncan, S. (2021, June 11). Chicano Art and Representations of the Female Identity. Department of History. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://history.uoregon.edu/history-showcase/2021-2/ .  

Hill, E. (2018, March 30). The artist duo whose land art is rejuvenating the environment. Artsy. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artist-duo-land-art-rejuvenating-environment.   

Kendler, J. (2018). Birds watching. JENNY KENDLER. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://jennykendler.com/section/466865-Birds-Watching.html.

Pantelić, K. (2016, June 16). What is the Vibrant Chicano Art All About ? Widewalls. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/what-is-chicano-art.  

Artivism and the Environment: The significance of Art in the Climate Crisis

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