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According to the dictionary, art is anything created with imagination and skill, and expresses important ideas or feelings. But does art have the power to change the society?
Two of the country’s visual artists believes that yes, art can be a powerful tool to initiate change. Armed with canvas, palette and paintbrushes, they join the fight in protecting Mother Nature.
AG Saño, a muralist, recalls how he embarked on a journey to being both an environmentalist and an artist. While his passion for drawing began in the 4th grade when he asked his seatmate to teach him to draw a shark, AG’s environmental awareness grew when he was in his teenage years, when his older brother held meetings in their house for Green League, a campus organization dedicated to environmental issues.
Later on, AG volunteered for the World Wide Fund for Nature, where his brother worked after graduation. In the summer of 2000, AG became the photographer for the team that did field research for the humpback whale migration in the Northern Philippines.
In 2010, AG watched a documentary film called “The Cove” which exposed dolphin slaughter and trade linking in a small fishing community in Japan. This deepened his passion for the environment. To raise awareness on the issue, he and his art crew vowed to paint one dolphin for every actual dolphin captured in Japan. To date, they’ve painted thousands of dolphins in about 12 countries.
Meanwhile, Anina Rubio, a visual artist whose paintings and murals can be found in different malls, is a known advocate for earth conservation and sustainable living.
During a dive trip in San Juan, Batangas back in 2015, Anina was shocked when she was greeted by plastic garbage and diapers underwater. At that moment, she realized she should start taking action. That same year, Anina transitioned into a more sustainable lifestyle. In her art, she cuts down on paper usage whenever possible, and has switched to digital when designing drafts for clients. She also uses reusable containers for mixing paints. Anina shared she never leaves the house without her three reusable essentials: bags for shopping or for food storage, and straws and bottles for coffee and water. She’s even switched to using bars for shampoo, conditioner and sunblock. Instead of driving a car, she bikes or walks if the destination is near. Though there’s a lot more she can do, she’s happy to have formed these habits and influence others to do the same.
Panahon TV sits down with these artists to find out more about their advocacies.
How can art protect the environment?
AG: According to international artist, Olafur Eliasson, “Art helps us identify with one another and expands our notion of we—from the local to the global.”
Scientists study the existing and prevailing conditions of the state of nature, but communicating it to the masses is not their expertise. This is where the creative comes in. With the arts, you can localize and customize information dissemination and education communication.
Anina: It serves as an interactive medium of information. It’s symbolic.
It’s for the public to see, yet it is very personal. It’s a great way of educating people on current environmental issues. I believe that through simple acts of living a more sustainable lifestyle and promoting sustainable art, people get the message that they should do the same, not because it is a trend, but because it is doable.
What are the impacts of your creative work over the years?
AG: The best indicator of success is the number of participants joining our mural sessions. From the 10 volunteers who painted our first dolphin mural in 2010, we now have more than 135,000 participants of 63 nationalities in 13 countries. There are art groups in some provinces that were formed after our mural sessions. Some of the volunteers pursued the field of arts, while others took up marine and environment sciences.
Anina: Through illustrations and paintings, people are informed of matters like shark conservation, sustainable tourism, even climate change. When you combine aesthetics and purpose, it creates a bigger impact. For me, seeing people convert into a more mindful and sustainable lifestyle because they see my work, or even sign petitions in pushing for conservation laws, is validation enough that I’m doing something correct.
What are the challenges you have encountered?
AG: There have been a lot of challenges since the beginning. We never had proper funding since it is an advocacy born out of sheer passion with no formal organizational structure. The positive challenge, however, is the volume of volunteers helping out in our mural painting events. The other challenge is how to teach people the negativity of wildlife trade and captivity. Until now, people believe they have the ultimate and absolute right to imprison wild animals, and to be entertained by them.
Anina: It’s never easy especially in terms of finding walls for my sustainable murals. But of course, these challenges will always be there. I won’t stop doing what I do just because there are road barriers. I want to be able to partner and collaborate with more people for future projects and tap local communities as well so that we can push for conservation on a bigger bandwidth.
What is your message to young artists who also aspire to use their craft for a meaningful cause?
AG: Art can always be a tool for expression and a weapon for change. It can be a means to communicate science. Let us use it to help save the planet, especially now that the planet needs saving. Artists of the world can be in the forefront of the causes that are dear to the people’s hearts. Climate change is now the greatest threat to humanity, and it is not enough for the scientific community and the academe to respond to this threat on their own. There can be a no better time to unite these extremely separate fields and disciplines than now.
Anina: Never stop creating purposeful work! It takes small acts of change to make bigger waves. Start now.