By Adriana Ford, Abi Croker and Shadrack Musyoki
Mazingira yetu wajibu wetu – Our environment, Our responsibility
Decolonising Climate Research – an Art-Science Workshop
On 16th May, 2023, scientists, students and members of the public joined concurrently at the Science Gallery London, Strathmore University in Nairobi and online, to discuss, through a series of talks and conversations, how approaches in art and science can contribute to amplifying local, indigenous and diverse voices in the context of the environment and climate justice.
Introduced by Adriana Ford, Centre Manager of Leverhulme Wildfires, and David Chiawo, Dean of the School of Tourism and Hospitality, Strathmore University, the workshop explored this topic both broadly from a global perspective, and also with a specific focus of wildfires and climate in Kenya.
Caroline Bacon, from Bedford School, provided an introduction to interpretating historical events through painting, using Guernica as case study, and Abi Croker, PhD student at Imperial College London, talked about decolonising climate research, and the wildfire paradox. We were then joined by Amos Chege Muthiuru (African Wildlife Foundation, now King’s College London) to share his reflections on a collaborative inter-cultural workshop which we held in Nairobi in December 2022, titled Decolonising Fire Science: Fire Across Contested Landscapes. These talks provided a valuable insight into the roles and interplay of art and science, and the value of exploring this in the context of climate research and climate justice.
The workshop also provided an opportunity to view and discuss three artworks by Kenyan artist Shadrack Musyoki – ‘Mamboleo’ (meaning ‘Current Affairs’), Chaguo Ni Letu (meaning ‘The Choice Is Ours’), and ‘Mwaki’ (meaning ‘Fire’ in the Kamba community), which were produced in the previous workshop. The artworks explore fire and climate in Kenya from the perspectives of the workshop participants and the artist (you can read more about workshop, which was organised by Leverhulme Wildfires in collaboration with Strathmore University in Nairobi, in English or Swahili).
What does climate justice mean to you?
In the second half of the workshop, participants both in London and Nairobi contributed to painting a mural exploring climate justice. This provided an opportunity to discuss the topic in a creative and collaborative setting, including the meanings behind the images in the mural, and what climate justice might look like.
We had to think outside of the box for designing a mural that would be informed by ideas and perspectives other than just our own (as the workshop organisers) – given that there would not be time in the workshop itself to translate shared ideas into a mural outline.
We therefore decided to invite participants to send in their creative responses to the question ‘what does climate justice mean to you?’ ahead of the workshop. In conjunction with this, we also ran a competition for students and staff at Strathmore University, to submit their response to this question in the form of either a short blog post, or visual art (photograph, sketch or painting). The entries to the competition, and those contributions sent in ahead by workshop participants, would then inform the content of the mural. Read more about the competition, and see the inspirational winning contributions.
Designing a mural across continents
Designing the outline of the mural was a collaborate effort – we worked on online and via Whatsapp, sending sketches back and forth, whilst examining the competition entries for inspiration. One of the visual entries submitted was used as the central feature of the mural – a tree of fruit, a big cat, a sun, and an African woman – symbolising the healthy world we are striving for.
Mazingira yetu wajibu wetu – Our environment, our responsibility
The final artworks are titled ‘Mazingira yetu wajibu wetu‘, which means ‘Our environment, our responsibility‘. The version painted in Nairobi remains at Strathmore University, whilst the London version remains with our Centre- non-identical twins situated in different continents.
On the left, we see climate injustices. A polluted world. Charcoal burning. Extreme wildfires. Melting glaciers and rising seas. Drought. Starvation.
The eyes imagery was inspired by the writing of Rahan Okita in his competition entry –
“The sun’s embrace has grown harsher, her rays scorching the earth with unrelenting fury. The maize withers, leaving behind parched land and hungry souls. It was in the midst of this desolation that I first grasped the meaning of climate justice, not from the pages of a book or the eloquence of an activist, but from the haunting eyes of my grandmother who is a farmer, her dreams crumbling like the dry soil beneath her calloused feet.” Rahan Okita
On the right, we can see what is needed for a more just world. “No one gets left behind”, “Uhusiano Mwema Na Mazingera” (harmony with nature); “Care for Our Common Home”; “Kuondoa Ukoloni Hali Ya Mazingiri” (Decolonise Climate Change). Communities and different sectors work together, Indigenous voices are heard. People collaborate to find solutions and rebalance the injustices.
Whilst extreme wildfires rage on the left, ash from the ‘good fires’ also provide nutrients to the ecosystem, in the middle.
“Listening to the voices of indigenous people is also a critical part of climate justice. Indigenous people have been the caretakers of the earth for generations, and they possess a wealth of knowledge and wisdom about how to live sustainably and in harmony with the natural world. Incorporating their perspectives and practices into our efforts to address climate change can help us to create more effective and equitable solutions.” Maura Muhalia, excerpt from competition entry
The central images illustrate the better world that we are striving for. The bountiful tree full of fruit. People and nature living in harmony. A healthy climate. It represents hope for a better future.
Exhibiting to diverse audiences
Art is created to be seen. Our first exhibition of the artworks was at our Leverhulme Wildfires Summer Conference in July 2023 at Imperial College London. Here we displayed the the mural alongside a print of the Kenyan version of the painting, as well as the three artworks produced in our workshop at Strathmore University in December 2022. The conference was attended by over 120 participants.
The artworks will also be displayed at The Exchange at King’s College London on 16th November 2023 at the public event “Time for Action Not Words,” and again at Imperial College London on 2nd December 2023 at the public event “United Nations Association Climate and Sustainability Youth Summit 2023“ for which we are expecting over 300 participants. Both these events are fringe events linked to COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties.
This workshop and competition was organised and funded by the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion Working Group in collaboration with the Centre for Biodiversity Information Development at Strathmore University (Nairobi) and Science Gallery London.
It forms part of our Decolonising Fire Science workshop series of our EDI Working Group, and part of our Wildfires at the Art-Science Interface initiative. The original artworks were produced with support from the Grantham Institute.
We thank all participants of the workshop and competition, with special thanks to Shadrick Musyoki, Veronica Muniu, Abigail Croker and Rhiannon Croker.
If you have any queries, please contact Adriana Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org