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Artists Create Virtual Gallery to Inspire Climate Joy

Artists Create Virtual Gallery to Inspire Climate Joy

They’re bringing color, form, and story to a call for climate justice.

photo of 10 pipe-shaped stoneware and porcelain vessels assembled in the shape of a sacred circle

“These vessels, each with differences in texture, color, [and] capacity, stand together in a circle, a sacred shape where no individual takes precedence over another.” – Khmer American artist narinda heng on “A Kind of Forest”

narinda heng / AAWAA / SOMArts

As communities emerge from the darkest days of a pandemic, dozens of artists have gathered their work to celebrate life on earth. Through a virtual 360° gallery presented by the Asian American Women Artist Association, visitors are transported to SOMArts Cultural Center in downtown San Francisco, where they can view Sowing Agency, an exhibit inspired by acts of climate resistance, small and large, around the world.

“There’s so much knowledge to share, but narratives of people of color, of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities aren’t usually shared unless you’re part of the community,” says curator and Earthjustice staffer Lisa Pradhan. “We felt it was important to pass that on.”

Some artists do this by paying tribute to eco-cultural norms.

photo of an art installation made from recycled materials including glass jars, aluminum and plastic containers, rubber bands, old toys, and more.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang / AAWAA / SOMArts

An installation by Chinese American artist Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is an homage to aunties who reuse and hand down items often destined for landfills over the course of generations — jars and takeout containers, rubber bands and twist ties, and, of course, plastic bags. “At any auntie’s home, the world comes full circle,” Wang wrote.

Some relate to the innate poetry of nature in our everyday lives.

paintings of carrots in grown in twisted forms

Cindy Shih / AAWAA / SOMArts

Taiwanese artist Cindy Shih’s watercolor, entitled “Uprooted,” channels inspiration from a backyard garden to describe the immigrant experience. “In unfamiliar terrain, the carrots took on a life of [their] own, twisting and turning to sprout new life in haphazard ways, resulting in a beautiful metaphor for establishing new life in uncharted and precarious times.”

Others deliver their message by appealing to a widely shared love of the outdoors.

two digital images, one of a backpacker hiking on mounds of pollution toward Mount Everest, and the other a forest ablaze in a single campfire

Tenzin Tsering / AAWAA / SOMArts

Digital designs by Tenzin Tsering aim “to demonstrate how our personal benefit from nature comes at a massive cost. Tsering illustrates how many individual choices and actions can add up to major harm or healing for the natural world.

Tucked into the darkest corner of the exhibit, a mixed media installation wades into the human connection to the seas.

Kristiana Chan / SOMArts / YouTube

Malaysian-Chinese artist Kristiana Chan’s “Bodies of Water” is an audio-video collage that honors the maternal force of the ocean for a local Chinese fishing community, while also reminding viewers of the vastness and vulnerability of the natural world.

And in the spirit of cross-movement solidarity that defines modern environmentalism, some works show that community can transcend borders and identities.

photo of a Hawaiian activist with arms outstretched and hands formed in a triangle signifying the sacred Mauna Kea mountain

Sunshine Velasco / AAWAA / SOMArts

Photography by Filipinx activist Sunshine Velasco features environmental protectors who are defending Indigeous sacred sites and cultures, ocean and lands apart, from Hawaii’s Mauna Kea mountain to North Dakota on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. 

As visitors move through the space, they see works organized by the themes of water, food, and community, and a dialogue emerges. “You want the pieces to interact, and our brains start to create these conversations,” says Pradhan, who also shares her hope that the exhibit can spark conversations about healing and joy. 

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the severing of ties over time — of stewardship of the land, of languages, of healing traditions, including the grieving process. We live in heartbreaking times, but we still need to be able to move through these experiences.”

To view the exhibit and read more about each piece, visit the SOWArts virtual gallery. For a photo collection of the exhibit, visit AAWAA’s Flickr album.

Art show curator Lisa Pradhan gazes into a mirror surrounded by standing stoneware and porcelain vessels by artist narinda heng

Lisa Pradhan, curator of Sowing Agency, gazes into narinda heng’s “A Kind of Forest.”
Shelley Kuang

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