Filipino artists: Art is a powerful tool for climate action

Quezon City – Art is a powerful tool for environmental and climate activism. This was emphasized by multi-awarded Filipino artists during the 23rd episode of The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ Klimatotohanan webcast series.

Entitled “Can Art Help Save the Planet? Pinoy Artivists Stepping Up the Fight Against Climate Change,” the episode highlighted the stories and lived experiences of Filipino artists  who have dedicated their work to raise awareness and cultivate the discourse about the climate crisis.

“Art has changed the world. There are a lot of freedoms we enjoy now, not just as Filipinos, but as human beings because of art,” multi-awarded muralist and activist AG Saño said, explaining that art—including street art—has the ability to  spark action that could change the course of human history. 

Inspiring a new generation of change-makers through the arts

Saño has painted more than 900 murals in 16 countries depicting peace and the environment. In March of 2010, he founded the group called Dolphins Love Freedom, a street art movement that attracted more than 200,000 volunteer painters from more than 65 countries in promoting public murals for the benefit of the environment.

Following the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, Saño became a pioneering member of the Climate Pilgrimage, a movement dedicated to walking thousands of kilometers across Asia-Pacific and Europe to connect with communities to create dialogues and grassroots actions.

“The best results after a decade of doing this is that I would find out that some of the young people I painted with pursued marine biology, fine arts, etc. They were able to translate that spark or inspiration into really concrete things that they could use as fuel for this fight,” Saño shared, noting that he would receive messages from the young people he met along the way that they are now pursuing careers or initiatives that would help address climate and environmental problems.

Digital artist Bricx Martillo Dumas, winner of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference art competition “Digital Art 4 Climate,” agreed with Saño, emphasizing that the arts make climate and environmental issues more accessible to the people.

“I have a deep relationship with the arts because it’s the easiest way to make people understand what’s happening in the environment and the world,” said Dumas, who is also an educator. “You cannot spell “Earth” without art,” he quipped.

Dumas shared that his winning entry “Nexus” aims to send a message that the daily choices made by humans are interlinked with what’s happening to the environment.

Folk singer and composer Noel Cabangon, an OPM legend, agreed with Saño and Dumas, as he emphasized the ability of the arts, especially music, to be persuasive and to elicit discussions on human rights and the environment.

“Music is not just for entertainment. It’s a tool to bring forward our causes. Every generation should be able to produce artists that will continue this [climate] advocacy,” Cabangon said.

Musicians and filmmakers for change

Cabangon has written many songs that speak about the need to preserve the planet and the lived realities of climate-vulnerable communities. His hit single “Kanlungan,” reminisces the time when the environment was still in its glory. Together with his former band Buklod, Cabangon  also released the environmental album “Sa Kandungan ng Kalikasan” in response to the proliferation of fossil fuel-based power plants in the country in the 90s.

During the webcast, Cabangon shared his songs “No Time To Waste” and “Umuulan Sa Tag-Araw, Umaaraw sa Tag-ulan.” The former is a piece recorded by various Filipino artists following Tropical Storm Ondoy,  pointing out the urgency to address the climate crisis. The latter, meanwhile, spoke about the changing weather patterns and the prevailing climate emergency.

For Cabangon, climate change is a pressing issue that there is a need for transdisciplinary collaboration. “One important thing is for musicians to learn how to organize our sectors, ourselves, to have a more organized action to help in promoting the environment,” he said.

Contemporary and experimental filmmaker and visual artist Martha Atienza, meanwhile, said that it is hard not to talk about environmental issues for artists in the Philippines.

“I’m 40 years old and I’ve seen coastal areas change. I’ve seen coastlines disappear. Fisherfolks are having a hard time because there’s hardly any catch anymore,” she said.

During the webcast, Atienza shared the creative process behind her works. “Gilubong Ang Akong Pusod Sa Dagat” is a film that follows the lives of local seafarers to initiate dialogue on environmental and socio-economic realities in their communities.

Critically acclaimed “Our Islands 11°16’58.4”N 123°45’07.0”E,” on the other hand, featured compressor divers in familiar costumes—Santo Niño, Typhoon Yolanda survivor, Manny Pacquiao, OFWs, police officers, drug war victims—doing an Ati-Atihan procession underwater, pushing the audience to confront climate change as seen in the seabed of dead corals.

Creating these films inspired Atienza to launch the GoodLand Association, an initiative that aims to provide more sustainable battery solutions to compressor divers and to set up a Bantayan Protected Area that will also generate alternative livelihood opportunities.

Expanding humanity’s sense of kinship through the arts

As a multi-awarded theatre director, Dr. Dennis Gupa collaborates with communities, specifically those who have been marginalized by social, political, and environmental circumstances, to create platforms for them to create stories.

During the webcast, Dr. Gupa emphasized the need to cultivate a discourse on human and non-human relationships, where humans are not located at the apex of power.

“We have inherited so much from this capitalist society, neoliberal society in which we position human-centric the idea of materiality and money. But we don’t question where things are created from. Art can deconstruct that idea of possession by generating new questions so that we can elevate our consciousness into something more critical,” Dr. Gupa explained when asked how the arts, such as applied theatre, could help expand humanity’s sense of kinship to include non-human entities, such as the oceans and the trees.