This was written by Elizabeth Brandt, field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force Washington, DC
I recently spoke with artist, attorney and mom, Monica Jahan Bose. we’re excited to share her latest project, WRAPture. Here’s some background information:
WRAPture is a temporary sari sculpture created with over 60 saris covered in art and writing about climate change. It will be installed on five buildings in DC’s historic Anacostia, April 4th, April 14th, and May 9th. A soundscape will include songs, poetry, and sounds of Anacostia and Bangladesh.
Since its November 2018 kickoff, WRAPture has worked with 12 women in Katakhali, Bangladesh and over 150 members of the community in Washington DC, including youth from Project Create, formerly homeless women, artists, furloughed federal workers, hearing-impaired individuals, and people of all ages, genders, and incomes.
Interview with Monica Jahan Bose:
When did you first understand that climate change is an issue that would impact you and your family?
I was aware of the risks of global warming and climate change by the late 80’s when I was at Columbia Law School in New York, There was much discussion of the issue and we were very happy when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed to in 1992 in Rio, while I worked as an environmental lawyer in New York and lectured about climate change. My first child was born in Tokyo in 1999, and by then I became very concerned about the future risks to my newborn daughter as well as to my family in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable because it is a densely populated nation barely above sea level and with numerous low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean. My mother and her siblings, and generations before her, grew up in Katakhali Village, Barobaishdia Island. I worry about the food insecurity and health and safety risks to everyone who lives there and about my heritage drowning under the ocean. The impact of climate change became even more real and immediate to me after I visited my ancestral village in 2013 with my daughters and we saw and heard directly about the impacts of climate change on that community.
What motivates you to make art with a focus on climate change and environmental issues?
I feel I must. I see little point in making pretty pictures given the massive challenge in front of us. In 2006, I decided to focus my art on environmental issues and women’s empowerment and started a series of paintings about climate change called “Water.” In 2012, I started Storytelling with Saris with the motivation of collaborating with women who are on the frontlines of climate change in my ancestral village. I wanted to merge my art with my environmental activism. I really enjoyed working with the women of Katakhali and it gave me such strength and joy that it spurred me to continue with this project and to work with other communities to share knowledge about climate change. Working with people in different communities really gives me hope and motivates me to keep going. I plan to keep going with Storytelling with Saris for the rest of my life. My daughters and my mother are helping me, too!
How does being a parent impact your work on these issues?
I worry about my children having greater health risks and grappling with a too hot planet with many places changed and uninhabitable. As a parent, I am concerned that the actions that we adults have been blindly taking will have a negative impact on future generations. Our overconsumption of fossil fuels is warming the planet to a dangerous level, leading to aridity, heat waves, fires, storms, erratic rain, more mosquitoes, mold, and resulting health problems. I worry that my children and their friends will have a much changed planet when they are my age. And that their quality of life will be reduced and that many areas that they now love to visit and where they have friends and family and memories, may be drastically changed or gone. For example, we spend time and have friends and family in Miami Beach, in New York City, and Barobaishdia Island, Bangladesh, places that are being hard-hit by storms and sea level rise.
What would you share with someone who feels drawn to art or activism on environmental justice and is looking for a way forward in this work?
I would say to find something in your community that is impacted or causing an impact and focus on that story. The more personal and authentic the work, the more powerful it is. I totally encourage everyone to be writing, singing, drawing and creating different forms of expression about climate change and environmental justice.
Do you have ideas about new ways that artists and activists can work together?
Artists have a way of expressing ideas with visual language or words that can help people connect and comprehend climate change and what we need to do to address it. Artists can help activists engage with people in new ways. I feel that hands-on art can empower and teach people in more meaningful, deeply connected ways that have more impact than going to a typical lecture or discussion. Much could be gained from collaboration between artists and activists, who may have a better understanding of the issues and what change is needed.
Please join Moms Clean Air Force at these upcoming events!