Art has always been humankind’s way of expressing a common, shared emotion. And contrary to a certain wing of critical opinion, it’s not all about sex or death or beard appreciation. With the current global woes of climate change, biodiversity loss, and habitat destruction, it’s no wonder that more and more artists are depicting environmental conservation issues in their work. Recently we looked at one Kickstarter-funded project that’s creating a direct link between immersive video art and the race to save Africa’s northern white rhino from destruction – which turned a depressing story into something, well, something else.
And all over the world, conservation-minded contemporary artists are using a variety of mediums and scales to draw attention to specific causes. Their work brings the spirit of environmental activism to a new, interconnected, audience. And very often, their passion to save beauty in nature inspires some pretty amazing and innovative visual approaches. Here are a few artists who have caught our eye recently…
Protecting rhinos from poaching is a topic close to many artists’ hearts. Even at a glance, it is easy to see that Asher Jay’s work is cause-driven. Jay uses illustration, sculpture, design installation, film, writing, and animation to advocate for animals and the environment and to “connect with people on a visceral level.”
She takes this connection seriously. She collaborated with the public to create her favorite piece by collecting #worldrhinoday photo submissions via various social media channels. Jay received so many moving #worldrhinoday photos, that she is starting more social media campaigns to create additional collaborative collages that draw attention to wildlife conservation.
“For any compassionate, connected person, it is impossible not to feel compelled to contribute and be an instrument of change.”
Barry Underwood uses photography as his tool to protect the wilderness. His work is a self proclaimed “heavy-handed dialogue” on conservation issues. He draws inspiration from the world’s most influential environmentalists, “I am aligned with the philosophies of John Muir and the guardianship teachings of David Suzuki. Everything is tied together.”
Underwood ties together these principles with technology by altering landscapes with LEDs before taking photos. His compositions are awe-striking and well-planned. “The natural world occupies my thoughts everyday, simply by looking at the sky, trees, the animals, the rain or snow.”
His photos draw others into this line of thought, and reminds viewers that they are “confronted every day with the staggering destruction of the natural world for financial gains. It astonishes me that governments support the corporate expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the midst of climate change.”
A diving enthusiast before he became an artist, Victor Douieb wanted to bring a bit of the sea into his home, and searched high and low for a shark sculpture he liked. Having had no luck, he decided to make his own. Now, Douieb sculpts all types of animals, but most of his work is intended to “show the beauty of animals and downplay the fear media creates about them”. Sharks, rhinos, and other fearsome creatures are being killed in large numbers. Though Douieb is best known for his bronze sharks, his personal favourite is his ‘Camouflage Rhino’ series.
“Rhinos are one of the most endangered species and are being poached almost to extinction largely for their horns – for the ridiculous idea that they have some medicinal purpose. So I came up with a similar ridiculous notion of painting them with a camouflage pattern as a way for them to hide in plain sight. In 2014 poachers set a record for killing this beautiful animals. Conservation, preservation, and protection are central themes to my work.”
Another conservation artist we like is sculptor, Brent Cooke. For him, one of the biggest threats to the environment as we know it is human encroachment. “we are pushing wildlife into smaller and smaller spaces. This issue isn’t going to go away, so we need to find a compromise that will guarantee the continuation of wildlife before it is too late.”
One species that is being pushed to the point of no return is salmon. Many people don’t realize that most of the salmon they eat is farmed, and there really aren’t many salmon left in the wild. Cooke portrays this in his favourite work, The Last Stand. In this life-size bronze sculpture, the sockeye salmon are in their final struggles to perpetuate the species. Besides the salmon being absolutely “iconic” to Cooke’s home in British Columbia, the piece “also highlights the serious issue of depletion as the salmon stocks continue to decline.”
Like Jay, Naziha Mestaoui also creates citizen artwork. One of her most groundbreaking works – One Heart One Tree – has yet to come to full fruition; it will be displayed in December as part of the COP21 climate talks in Paris. People will be able to download an app to participate in her work. The app will sense the user’s heartbeat and create the outline of an individualized tree, which will then be projected onto the Eiffel Tower.
An actual tree will be planted for every person that participates in the project. It will seamlessly tie together art, technology, and climate action. “Art is a good way to share concepts and create experiences.” Mestaoui’s work on climate change is particularly important since people have trouble emotionally connecting to the issue. Her goal is “to connect an ephemeral artwork with a long term social and environmental impact, showing us that we can all feel responsible and act. And collectively, if we share the same purpose, we will have a huge impact.”
Lead picture credit: Asher Jay, Brent Cooke and Victor Douieb