Obey for climate change: Can art advocate for change?
This past weekend I visited the Shepard Fairey exhibit in town and was intrigued by the span and reach of his art, specifically his work that touches on environmental issues. It was one of the first of its kind in France and coincidentally, today marks day one of the global climate meeting in Bonn. Leaders and advocates from around the globe are meeting to advance past progress and step up to current challenges.
Who is Shepard Fairey?
He is a street artist, activist who was initially intrigued by the way society follows, or “obeys” brand and publicity. His first epic project was in the creation of Andre the Giant and projecting it on the local Providence mayor (at the time, 1989). Back then, Fairey had to fess up to the police and confront the mayor himself. Later, Andre’s image was refined to become the “Obey” face that we all recognize as the symbol of Fairey’s work.
In the 80’s and 90’s, street art was done by society’s rebels. Fairy believed early on that the medium is the message, showcasing your own work in public space, without the consent of anyone, stickers, paper, basics, and non-million dollar investment. Fairey’s work made us re-think subliminal messaging, tapping into both our conscious and unconscious mind. His inspiration came from an array of political leaders, causes, music and artists. Now, Fairey is considered one of the most iconic artists of the time.
Suggested reading: The medium is the message, by Marshall McLuhan; Obey: Supply and Demand, by Shepard Fairey; Obey: Earth Crisis (2 Volumes), by Shepard Fairey
Areas of work: Ecology.
Fairey was first asked by the Sierra Students Coalition (university branch of the Sierra Club) to create a piece in 1997, which included Air and Act Now Apologize Later.
He continued to become more aware of environmental issues and was involved in projects related to nuclear power, the heavy dependence oil in the US and protecting world’s lands and seas. His important contribution came up in France, where Fairey created a giant mandala globe that was suspended within the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the Global Climate Change Conference during the UNFCCC COP-21 in December 2015. It was titled “Earth Crisis”. The mandala shields symbolized threats to the environment, as well as called for ways to respect it.
It weighed 2.3 tons and displays 8 meters in diameter for a printed surface area of over 200 meters squared. The message was to reflect on the future of the planet and the threats to its sustainability during the global conference taking place in Paris, at the time.
The "Earth Crisis" sphere suspended during the global climate change conference in Paris in December 2015. More: http://www.unoeilquitraine.fr/?p=5206
More info: To view pictures and read Shepard’s descriptions of each piece of art composing the massive globe. https://obeygiant.com/paris-cop21-shepard-reveals-earth-crisis-globe-located-in-the-center-of-the-eiffel-tower/
What’s (UNFCCC) COP?
UNFCCC stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COP, Conference of Parties, is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention. All States that are Parties to the Convention are represented at the COP, at which they review the implementation of the Convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts and take decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention, including institutional and administrative arrangements. The UNFCCC COP annually at a different global location each year. Today kicks-off the first day of UNFCCC COP 23 in Bonn, Germany. More here: https://cop23.unfccc.int/
Why should I care?
There are global meetings happening all the time. Many of us feel disengaged from the high-level diplomats and discussions, specifically during a time when many of us feel as though politics is failing us. (Reminder: Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement). Although, times are changing. A lot work is happening at the grassroots level. Groups are banding together for action. Meetings like these are inviting and being attended by local leaders, including California state governor and former NYC Mayor Bloomberg, as well as grassroot groups.
I remember chatting with a group of indigenous women who attended Paris COP in 2015 who came from the Pacific Islands. Their islands were literally disappearing due to climate change. Yikes! So, they came to represent their people and share personal real-life experiences to influence the high-level discussions and guide the decision-making. At the time, we also invited a small delegation of young professionals, who were working in environmental issues in their country, to attend and voice their concerns in the side forums of the meeting in Paris. The ambiance was all-inclusive and the energy was high.
As a mother and active community member, seeing art and grassroots efforts activate thinking and change is empowering, especially regarding climate change. Despite the facts and science, each of us have our own opinion and relationship with the environment. For me, it is encouraging to see ways we can improve the future and planet for our children in creative ways.
How can street artists advocate strongly for political change, or is it just art? What’s the real way to measure the impact of work like Fairey’s? How could wemodel ways to use art and messaging to guide climate change action? Do you know other artists or grassroots organizations advocating in a similar way?