Artists and designers respond to the relationship between racial injustice and the climate crisis

Artists and designers respond to the relationship between racial injustice and the climate crisis

As negotiators and climate advisors continue to hash out the details of deals and promises at Cop26 in Glasgow, it’s important to remember that the effects of the climate crisis do not, and will not, fall equally on everyone. The richest one per cent of the world’s population causes twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50 per cent; that same 50 per cent – around 3.5 billion people – lives overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change. In short, they are bearing the brunt of a crisis they did not create.

The Colour of the Climate Crisis is a new exhibition exploring this inequality and the connections between climate breakdown and racial injustice. “It’s communities around the world, largely Black communities and communities of colour, in the Global South, who are suffering the worst of the climate crisis that they largely didn’t cause,” says Naresh Ramchandani, a partner at Pentagram and the co-founder of Do The Green Thing, which has organised the exhibition. “Even in the Global North,” he continues, “lower-lying areas around the coasts and areas with worse air pollution index quite heavily against Black communities and communities of colour.”

In 2019, Do The Green Thing put on an exhibition called Man-Made Disaster showcasing the work of 30 women artists and non-binary artists, which looked at the links between climate change and the patriarchy. Following the success of that project, Naresh says this year, “It felt like a good moment to think a little bit more systematically again.” The project began with an essay, written by the journalist and activist Minnie Rahman, published back in February, which laid out the horrific inequalities related to the impacts of climate change. Naresh and his team then reached out to a number of artists and designers of colour, and asked if they’d be interested in contributing an artwork that speaks to this overarching theme.

The result is a highly diverse collection of work by 24 artists and designers of colour, ranging across a variety of different disciplines, from fine art to photography to illustration and graphic design. “As a team, we’re interested in the range of responses,” says Naresh. “Some of them are much more focused on the problem, and are disappointed or critical, like Mona Chalabi’s response; others are angrier, like Eddie Opara’s; and others are a little bit more hopeful, like Abeer Sikaly’s work. And there’s a whole range of emotions in between.”

Earlier this week, to coincide with the start of the Cop26 summit, Do The Green Thing launched a pop-up exhibition of the artworks at Pipe Factory in Glasgow. “It was stunning and it had a real polemic power to it,” says Naresh. There was also something deceptively alluring about the pure beauty of the work, which allowed the hard-hitting message behind it to land (something Mona Chalabi explains in more detail below). “There’s something beguiling about aesthetics that gets you to step towards the work and think about it more deeply,” Naresh explains. “When we put the works up in the space [at Pipe Factory], I almost hadn’t realised how beautiful it all was.”

Although the pop-up exhibition in Glasgow has been dismantled, The Colour of the Climate Crisis is going to live on in various forms. There is a digital exhibition, where you can see all of the artists’ work in a virtual gallery, and the team is currently in talks to bring the exhibition to a Lush store in Liverpool, to the Glasgow School of Art, to London, and even to the Climate Museum in New York. As Naresh puts it: “The relationship between racial justice and the climate crisis is such an ongoing conversation. It needs to be explored and refreshed and renewed.” To follow where the exhibition goes next and to see all of the artworks in a digital gallery, head over to the project’s website.

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