Meet Four Black Art Environmentalists Fighting to Save The Planet

May 11, 2022

It’s not discussed enough, but environmental racism is very much a thing. According to Insider, numerous studies have found that Black and Brown communities in the US are exposed to toxic waste sites, lead poisoning, and other industrial complexes at higher rates than their white counterparts. The lingering effects of exploitative colonialism mean people of color elsewhere in the world also feel the impacts of environmental racism.

For that reason, people of color across the globe have always been on the frontlines of environmental justice. Meet four Black activists who do this very important work through the arts.

Fabrice Monteiro

A photographer and retired model, Monteiro drew international attention with the 2015 release of “The Prophecy”: a collection of photos capturing nine traditional spirits as they warned the world of the dangers of not caring for the environment. Monteiro, who is of Belgian and Beninese descent, had just returned to Africa after 30 years. He partnered with Senegalese fashion designer Doulsy to create a project that would highlight environmental concerns while also centering on culture. He’s since expanded The Prophecy to 15 pieces, three of which were released last year.

Latoya Ruby Frazier

As an artist whose work centers on social justice, with a specific focus on America’s working class, it was only a matter of time before Frazier’s work turned to the impact of pollution and environmental policy. After documenting the struggles of factory workers in a critically acclaimed series called “The Last Cruze,” she released a collection called “Flint Is Family in Three Acts,” a project completed alongside the people impacted by the ongoing water crisis over the course of 5 years. But for Frazier, the work doesn’t stop once she’s used her art to spread awareness. She maintains a lifelong commitment to helping her subjects transform their situations.

Omar Ba

One of the rising stars of African art, this Senegalese multi-disciplinarian is best known for tackling political themes and power dynamics in his work. But he also occasionally touches on environmental concerns, as was the case with his 2018 painting “Plaidoyer d’une jeunesse” (french for “youth advocacy”). The piece featured young men as chimeras – creatures made of several species. “The chimeric suggests a concern with humanity’s fraught relationship with the natural world at a moment when biotechnologies are allowing hitherto unimaginable biological possibilities, while our natural environment is veering towards collapse,” he explained.

Allison Janae Hamilton

They say those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. Florida native Hamilton plays on the devastation of past environmental destruction in her home state to draw attention to the ways in which climate change puts local populations and ecosystems at risk. “As climate change continues to threaten our environments, so increases the vulnerability of those already exposed to longstanding environmental injustices,” she told HuffPost in 2018. “Through the narratives in my artwork, I explore the changing climate as a palpable, human experience.” In 2020, she brought her five-channel, non-narrative film Waters of a Lower Register to the Brooklyn waterfront, to spur a conversation about nature and man’s impact on each other.