This year’s Earth Day is themed Invest In Our Planet. What Will You Do?
On earthday.org, whose mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide, it says, “This is the moment to change it all - the business climate, the political climate, and how we take action on climate. Now is the time for the unstoppable courage to preserve and protect our health, our families, our livelihoods.”
Here, we look at a few creative Malaysian individuals and collectives who have been creating awareness and initiating discussions on environmental issues through various arts and community projects.
Autistic artist Wan Jamil Wan Shaiful Bahri, known professionally as Artjamila, communicated through doodles and drawings when she was a child. Today, many of her works are related to current affairs and issues, such as the pandemic, climate change, plastic waste, sea pollution and other environmental concerns.
Some eye-catching pieces that you might have seen at recent showcases include her Marine Life (Octopus) Born From Waste sculpture, made from waste material such as paper and plastic, and painted in vibrant colours; and her large-scale Marine Life In Plastic Fabric Waste series, which is her response to the ocean’s plastic pollution and how disposable face masks, widely used during the pandemic, has contributed to this.
She just had her solo exhibition, A Voyage Of Moments, at UiTM's Creative Media and Technology Hub, which ended its one-month run on April 15. This was a showcase of 15 years of her work, from 2007 to 2022.
The Borneo Art Collective takes on diverse projects, including many that revolve around the environment, such as its Plastic Fantastic installation at the Skechers Sundown Festival, which was designed together with Weave Artisan Society and Epic Homes, with zero waste in mind.
Its Urban Green Pockets Project in Kuching saw the conversion of plastic bottles into planters for a community garden and food bank at the old Ting & Ting supermarket premises, which has been converted into Think & Tink, a community arts space and creative incubator.
The project opened to the public in January this year, a tangible manifestation of citizen-organised healthy food compaign, contributing to the community food bank in downtown Kuching.
“Through sharing this project with our public, we would like to redesign the kind of relationship we can have with our natural environment, reminding us what we can do, either as individuals or a collective, to make the idea of self-sustainability into a reality,” it says in a Facebook post.
Another project is the Narratives Of Soil research project by Wendy Teo and Eliza Collins, which explores the vocabulary of soil and contexualises our landscape through time and activity. In a time when climate change is a hot topic, global connections using familiar materials are important in coming up with solutions.
This project is supported by the British Council’s Connections Through Culture research programme, with the exhibition held at Think & Tink early this year.
Formed in 2015 in Penang, Plasticity Theatre Troupe’s focuses on the concept of upcycling.
Its contemporary shadow play productions, which often touch on environmental and climate change topics, are put together with upcycled and discarded objects.
Its first show, Plastic City, touches on the topic of the sheer amount of disposable plastic products in our world and the consequences that come with such widespread use.
In 2018, it collaborated with Homemade Puppet from Thailand, to create The Present, a mentorship project that follows a little boy and his fish friend on a journey of adventure, where they see how our destructive practices have harmed Mother Nature and the creatures that call it home.
Last year, Plasticity Theatre Troupe, together with landscape architect Dr Mustafa Kamal Mohd Shariff, presented Merbau’s Fable at the IFLA 2020 World Landscape Architects Summit. This contemporary shadow performance demonstrated how waste material can be upcycled and how we can be kinder to our environment.
Earlier this year, a series of innovative and futuristic architectural concepts proposed by UCSI University's architecture students were published in the book Bajautopia: Tales Of Borneo's Sea Nomads.
It is part of an ongoing research project that aims to reflect on both the struggles and hopes of the Bajau Laut community in Sabah.
The Bajautopia book also addresses climate challenges faced by this community, especially with rising sea levels affecting their traditional seafaring lives and customs.
The Bajau Laut community, mostly found on the islands of Mabul, Bohey Dulang, Sibuan, Maiga, Mantabuan, Selakan, and Omadal in Sabah, inhabit small wooden sailing vessels or stilt huts perched atop coral reefs. They rarely venture ashore. And when they do, it is to collect fresh drinking water or timber wood for their boats.
“What’s unique about this book is that we are looking at cultural heritage, environmental issues and social welfare from an architectural perspective,” says Dr Ng Keng Khoon, who co-edited the book.
The essays featured in Bajautopia also take a critical look at these issues and many of the design concepts by the architecture students offer alternative solutions to the Bajau Laut community's livelihood and survival.