Photos by Mitchell Phun
I remember visiting the British museum as a child and being fascinated by a 13,000 thousand year old mammoth tusk that had been intricately shaped by flint tools to represent two swimming reindeer. It occurred to me that this tiny object contained an entire narrative within it’s etched facade. For the hunter-gatherer society who produced it, reindeer were an essential means of survival providing food, clothing and materials for equipment. This small piece of ivory carved with such diligent attention seemed to immortalize the creature, reminding me and every other visitor to the museum of the important role it played within their society.
“Art gives us the opportunity to bring a topic to the forefront of public discourse.”
Art is undoubtedly one of the oldest and most universal forms of human expression. It can transcend the capabilities of the written word and in many cases give us a unique insight into specific moments in history.
The more I learn about art throughout history, the more aware I become of the profound ability it has to represent complex and defining themes within society. This is particularly true when it comes to political and social art, which is often created not just to record moments in time but to provoke thought and inspire change.
A good example is the work of artist Louis Masai who paints huge wall murals of endangered animal species in public spaces, prompting thousands of people to come face to face with exactly what is at stake in today’s changing climate. After all – if we do not see the problem then it is hard to engage with fixing it. Another example is Olafur Ellison’s ‘Ice Watch’ which shipped 12 large blocks of ice from Greenland to Paris, where they were placed in a circular formation outside the U.N COP21 conference. Each melting block became a direct and tangible representation of the effects climate change is having on our polar regions. It is safe to say both these examples won’t be found in a museum 13,000 years from now and in a way that is the point. Their temporal nature is a fitting metaphor for the crumbling environmental systems that they represent.
Examples like these remind me how very important it is to create, particularly when our core values feel most threatened. Artists have a unique ability to look at problems from a different perspective and represent them in a way that cuts right to the heart of the issue. As creative people, all of us have the ability to tap into our individual mediums of expression and use these to provoke conversation and perhaps even ignite change.
As we move into 2017 we need to leverage this ability more than ever. The social and political challenges that lie ahead towards preserving our environment are daunting and that is exactly why we should seize the opportunity to creatively engage. We must observe the situation around us, find a theme that embodies our core values and then represent it through our work. Whether that’s music, painting, design, sculpture, photography, video or any other creative discipline, art gives us the opportunity to bring a topic to the forefront of public discourse and see it anew.
So what are we waiting for? Creative people of the world – your planet needs you!
Finn Harries is a Project 1324 Ambassador and an Architecture student at Parsons School of Design. Follow him on Instagram at @FinnHarries.