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Climate One

Thursday, July 1 at 2:00 pm

Shepard Fairey, Mystic And The Power Of Art

From street art to political campaigns to corporate advertising, the power of the image is undeniable. For over three decades, Shepard Fairey’s work has provoked thought and controversy in both the art and political spheres. Now, with a public weary of climate charts and apocalyptic images of melting glaciers and emaciated polar bears, we will explore how art might provoke a more productive conversation.

Shepard Fairey is best known for creating the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” portrait during the 2008 presidential election. Fairey’s work is now included in the collections of the Smithsonian, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Modern Museum of Art in New York and many others. Fairey says as a young man, he was drawn to counterculture.

“Punk rock and skateboarding showed me a culture that was about ignoring what the mainstream was doing, using creativity to build your own scene and it made it cool to have an honest and unvarnished voice,” he says.

Much of his art and activism has focused on the environment and climate change. He says he uses dark humor and human protagonists to draw people into his pieces.

“I'm taking a lot of different approaches but rarely is it just ‘Save the Whales,’” he says. “I do want the whales to be saved, but … it's more seducing people with something that maybe will get them to reflect upon it and make their own choice rather than feeling like they're being judged.”

Fairey says it can be difficult to walk the line between motivating people and discouraging them with the full picture of what’s at stake with the climate crisis.

“It's important that people understand the severity of the issue, but it's also important that they don't feel paralyzed because it's too overwhelming. So, I'm always trying to see how I can get the balance right in my communications with both the text and the imagery I'm using.”

For Grammy-nominated hip hop artist Mystic, art has allowed her to build a platform to advocate for social justice and connect with people in power.

“Art allows people to tune in, right? I think sometimes when we’re enjoying ourselves or engaging with art, some of our defenses come down,” she says.

Humor can also be an important tool and form of release, she says, especially when talking about difficult subjects like climate change. Mystic is also a community educator, and currently the Program Manager for Hip Hop Caucus’ Think 100% FILMS division, which produces films that center on climate justice. Their first film is a comedy special called “Ain’t Your Mama’s Heat Wave.”

“How do you make the climate crisis funny, right? Something that's not funny at all. How can we talk about it in ways that open up where people can think about it in different ways and we can start to have conversation... And so, Ain't Your Mama’s Heat Wave is really about joy as part of resistance.”

But Mystic says that doesn’t mean forgetting the need to respond to the crisis at our doorsteps, especially in minority and low-income communities.

“This is a call, this is an emergency that’s happening, and we need to understand that the climate crisis is not just in other places in the world, but it's happening in communities, in our nation, in Black communities.”

To listen to the audio of “Shepard Fairey, Mystic, and the Power of Art” on Climate One online, please click HERE.