11 Visual Artists Taking on the Climate Crisis
Be they sculptors, painters, photographers, or filmmakers, these artists are sparking important conversations about the climate crisis and inspiring action around the world.
“[P]eople are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events... by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.”
The late American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was right: Art really does have the power to change people, and thus, our future.
That’s why today we’re heartened to see more and more artists taking on the generation-defining issue that is the climate crisis. They’re expressing what this threat means for all of us and are making the need for action emotional, urgent, and tangible.
So, here are 11 outstanding visual artists whose work is inspiring conversations and action all around the world!
Lorenzo Quinn is an Italian sculptor best known for his massive recreations of human hands. As he describes, “I wanted to sculpt what is considered the hardest and most technically challenging part of the human body…[t]he hand holds so much power – the power to love, to hate, to create, to destroy.”Lorenzo’s sculptures often grapple with environmental issues, including the climate crisis. Some of his most famous pieces on the matter include “Support” — a commentary on the threat of rising seas to the historic city of Venice — and “Give,” which asks the question “Can we save the planet... and save ourselves in the meantime?”
Nichole Sobecki is a Kenya-based photographer and filmmaker whose work primarily focuses on “humanity’s fraught, intimate, and ultimately unbreakable connection to the natural world.”Guided by that theme, Sobecki often covers the effects of the climate crisis and its solutions. Whether that means sharing pictures of the global clean energy transition or documenting the devastating impacts climate change is already having on vulnerable communities around the world.
The Icelandic–Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has advocated for the environment for decades using sculptures and photography, among other mediums. In fact, in 2019, Eliasson was appointed goodwill ambassador for renewable energy and climate action by the United Nations Development Program.One of his global warming-focused works, “The Weather Project”, can be seen below.
Speaking of “The Glacier Melt Series 1999/2019”, another climate change-focused piece, Olafur notes, “Every glacier lost reflects our inaction. Every glacier saved will be a testament to the action taken in the face of the climate emergency. One day, instead of mourning the loss of more glaciers, we must be able to celebrate their survival.”
John Akomfrah is a British artist of Ghanaian descent whose works include the themes of memory, post-colonialism, the experiences of migrants around the world, and more recently, the climate crisis.In 2017, Akomfrah released “Purple,” a six-channel video installation that draws upon his travels in the French Polynesia to address climate change, human communities, and the wilderness. It’s been called the “most ambitious project to date” of his multi-decade career.
Daniel Beltra is a Spanish photographer whose photographs show just how drastically our planet is changing as a result of human activity.
Beltra is known for his focus on aerial photography, which “more easily allows for the juxtaposition of nature with the destruction wrought by unsustainable development.” For him, this angle helps emphasize that our planet has limits and that we are pushing past them.One of his best-known photographs — an image of the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — can be seen below.
ANA TERESA FERNÁNDEZ
Ana Teresa Fernández is a Mexican-born, San Francisco-based sculptor and painter. Released in 2021, her “On the Horizon” exhibit stunningly demonstrates the risk rising sea levels present to her community, and of course, coastal communities all around the world.As she describes, “We human beings who call this ocean planet home are key protagonists in the plot and pacing of this tale. Individual actions will have everything to do with how our collective story unfolds.”
ALLISON JANAE HAMILTON
Allison Janae Hamilton is a Kentucky-born, Florida-raised sculptor, photographer, and videographer. Her art draws inspiration from her roots growing up in the South and from a passion for landscapes.
As her biography describes, “she engages haunting yet epic mythologies that address the social and political concerns of today's changing southern terrain, including land loss, environmental justice, climate change, and sustainability.”You can see those themes captured in works like “Floridawater I” (2019).
Did you know that if plastic use were a country, it’d be the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world? It’s true, and along with the inescapable problem of waste, is serious cause for concern.
That’s why we’re glad to see Alejandro Duran taking action through the Washed Up Project. This is a series of artworks made of the international trash that washes up on Mexico’s beaches.Duran is raising awareness of the problem and hopes to help end the plastic pollution trashing the world’s land, oceans, and atmosphere.
Katherine Boland is a British-born, Australia-based artist who makes art focused on the natural world using non-traditional mediums. Among them, fire.Katherine was inspired to make art to raise awareness about climate change after experiencing the 2019–2020 Australian bushfires firsthand. Below is a piece from “OUTPUT: ART AFTER FIRE,” an art project supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade following the fires.
JASON DECAIRES TAYLOR
Jason deCaires Taylor is a sculptor, professional underwater photographer, and as his art clearly shows, an avid environmentalist. He is best known for his many large-scale underwater sculpture exhibits.
As his bio describes, “Taylor’s pioneering public art projects are not only examples of successful marine conservation, but works of art that seek to encourage environmental awareness, instigate social change and lead us to appreciate the breathtaking natural beauty of the underwater world.”His works are mesmerizing and moving and completely speak for themselves.
Julie Heffernan is an American painter whose art touches on subjects ranging from the environment to history and feminism, among others.Recently, she made waves in the climate art scene with “When the Water Rises,” a series of paintings that “create alternative habitats in response to environmental disaster and planetary excess.”
Courtney Taylor, an art curator at Louisiana State University, could hardly have described the series better:
“Julie's work addresses excess and its relationship to climate change, issues that become more relevant, more pressing, each day…[t]he beauty of her painting pulls us in to consider these fraught issues, but, in addition to considering these catastrophes and our complicity, we're pushed to consider our response.”
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By Diego Rojas