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Student Art Encourages Ecological Activism at Local Exhibit

Photograph by Sarah Weaver

With rising temperatures around the world each year, severe droughts, uncharacteristic storms and wildfires plaguing our environment, and all of it due to our own negligence of our earth which supports our own lifestyles, it can be a bleak prospect to try and confront all the natural beauty that has been destroyed and must be salvaged in these times. It would seem easiest to ignore these issues and pray that legislation will take its course to stop our self-destruction. However, we know that many people in power do not prioritize our planet’s health, or blind themselves from it completely. Therefore the job falls on us, the people, to do what we can to educate ourselves on the reasons for climate change, what it is damaging, and what steps we can take to stop our rising ignorance. One of the first steps to this action is recognizing that how we affect the environment, and in turn, it affects us, and there’s no better way to help raise awareness than through student activism.

The David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley has come together with the IB Studio Art class of 2017/18 to promote student art and environmental awareness with their latest exhibit. The Art/Act: Youth exhibit highlights the consciousness of Berkeley High Students (BHS) with regards to nature’s beauty and their own relationship with the world around us. This is the jumping off point for pieces which contemplate the experience of people, animals, plant life, and other features of our environment during our growing climate change crisis.

Masked Children, a series of watercolor paintings by Grace O’Keefe, a 12th grader at BHS, imposes the faces of young children in front of different polluting activities. One of the paintings shows a child in front of billowing smoke stacks, forcing dirty orange smoke and fumes into the atmosphere. The children wear sanitary masks over their mouths and noses to try and protect their developing respiratory system from the adverse effects of these pollutants, and their glassy eyes and empty expression indicate that while they may be unaware of it, their life has already been tainted by our indulgent activities and selfish needs. These paintings are really meant to encourage concern for the younger people in our society who are harmed by the actions of their elders. “Outdoor air pollution ranks in the top ten killers on earth. It causes premature death, lung disease and more, and puts children at a greater risk than adults,” said O’Keefe.

A mixed media sculpture by BHS students Helena Busansky, Collin Ballek, Siena Laws, Maya Monroe, and Simone Ewell-Szabo depicts a horrific human-like creature with sunken eyes and a gaping hole for a mouth, emitting a silent scream as its hands grip its organs which have fallen from its torn stomach. Its heart is embedded with pieces of plastic, signifying the damage that our carelessness can cause. The blood vessels leading from the heart are plastic tubes. Trash litters it’s open chest cavity, giving the clear message that we are a part of this environment, and a reminder that our actions affect not just us individually, but  the human race as a whole in catastrophic ways. The artistic blurb states: “When one drops trash on the ground, or wastes water, or allows companies to create an excess of fossil fuels, we see it as harming the environment. However, in reality, we need the Earth to be healthy. When we harm the environment the true harm is unto ourselves.” This piece is very disturbing and sobering, but also serves to reinforce the idea that we have to care about and be aware of our effect on the environment, if for no other reason than it will come back to haunt us eventually.

The art on display at The David Brower Center is not all so melancholy, much of it simply expresses a passion for the Earth’s beauty and the parts of nature we often take for granted.

The exhibit as a whole is both grave and uplifting. It increases the sense of personal investment in preserving nature and urgency in the issue of environmental destruction, but also draws attention to our own knowledge of and passion for our planet’s health.

It is an important statement on the power of youth activity in regard to widespread issues, and expresses a compassion and understanding of the ever developing world around us. It serves as a reminder that the future of the state of our planet rest in our hands and we must make the effort to promote change. It is inspiring to see this environmentally conscious art come from the artistic minds of the BHS student body.