A creative response to environmental issues

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Some of the South African Phone call to the world works that were showcased at COP26.
Some of the South African Phone call to the world works that were showcased at COP26.

The Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) within the School of Applied Human Sciences partnered with Art A Resource for Reconciliation Over the World, South Africa (ARROWSA) to produce an exhibition in Glasgow as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

The CCMS and ARROWSA are part of an international creative environmental project Phone call to the world that is led by the Scottish Youth Theatre and funded by the British Council. The project explores climate change and environmental crises through art, science and digital technology.Groups of young people from three continents are engaging with climate change issues that impact them at a local level, coming together to consider the wider global climate challenge. Using the simple holding framework of Phone Call to the World, young people from across Scotland, South Africa, Palestine, England and India are creating digital performance work that informs, questions, confronts and demands that its many audiences make a difference to the world’s climate.

During COP26, Phone Call to the World culminated in an Interactive Exhibition, assembling work from all the partners and young people involved in the project. The exhibition narrates the journey of the project – traversing each of the intersectional localities and lenses that the participating organisations bring. The work bridges the auditory and the visual, the interactive and the participatory, acting as testimony to assert how young people encounter the world they live in and emphasising that they demand climate justice now. The exhibition is a space for witnessing and transition, where the threat of global extinction is responded to at the local level.

CCMS honorary lecturer and ARROWSA Chair Dr Mary Lange managed the project in South Africa that included ARROWSA Bechet, Sydenham, Durban and South Roots International youth from Pelican Park on the Cape Flats.

Mr Bheki Dlamini, ARROWSA Bechet coordinator said, ‘It was an exciting opportunity for us as we tapped into something that we are aware of but had never taken time to learn about. This was an opportunity to educate ourselves on the issue so that we could find possible solutions to address the issue of climate change which is very apparent in the changes in Durban’s climate. It was especially exciting to bring in the arts to address the issue, making it fun for the participants while they learnt.’

Ms Mahri Reilly of the Scottish Youth Theatre commented, ‘The shared endeavour and values of partners involved in Phone Call to the World has been the energy that has driven the project. The work of our South African partners, ARROWSA and South Roots International, has demonstrated the wealth of possibility when young people are empowered to act and make a difference in their communities. We are proud to have shared their work with visitors to the project exhibition in Glasgow during COP26.’

In October 2021, ARROWSA Bechet youth led by ARROWSA school portfolio leader, Dlamini, hosted South Roots International youth and the Local History Museum’s Abasha Bash alumni for a week at Bechet High School where climate issues were discussed. The week’s activities included engagement with field rangers and a snake expert, Mr Nick Evans, at the Palmiet Nature Reserve, Westville.

They explored the power of indigenous knowledge systems and technologies that did not negatively impact the environment. The rest of the week was devoted to song, dance, poetry, visual arts and drama workshops, which culminated in a vibrant performance for the community at Bechet High School.

Ms Tamia George, ARROWSA Bechet participant said, ‘It was such an amazing experience meeting with South Roots International to create our production for Phone Call to the World. We were busy getting the production together, but at the same time we were learning so much along the way. It’s been an eye-opening experience and as ARROWSA, we are so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn and grow not as a school but as a community to make our world a better place.’

Another ARROWSA Bechet participant Ms Mary Tshiteya remarked, ‘Being part of COP26 has really been a great experience not only for ARROWSA as a group but for me as an individual. I have learnt a lot from the different projects. Until now, we have not really taken climate change seriously so learning about the different ways in which we as individuals can help reduce the damage we cause to Mother Earth was really good because in the end we all will be affected.’

A vegetable and cultural garden that includes a painted mural and tyres also formed part of the Phone Call to the World project. It was created at Bechet High School and the vegetables will be donated to families in need.

‘We decorated the old tyres that we had reused. We gave the tyres meaning that related to the environment. Some of them represent seasons. As we know mother nature goes through changes and so do we as individuals. Change prepares us for life challenges and better opportunities,’ said Mr Chulumanco Lwana, ARROWSA Bechet participant.

Videos were filmed and edited of the week’s events by ARROWSA visual arts portfolio leader Mr Vincent Salanji and Ms Shanette Martin of South Roots International. These formed part of the Phone Call to the World COP26 exhibition. The video can be viewed on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4YbvfHL-MPMDVGMvQDP_5A).

Salanji said, ‘I was absolutely amazed by how the participants used different forms of art to interpret social issues. Art is a beautiful international language; it makes us all comfortable to address the social issues we face in our multicultural society, especially during a time like this global pandemic. For me visual arts can speak to the hearts of many, more than words can ever do.’

The project has had an impact in that Dlamini, supported by senior learners, is keen for environmental issues such as climate change to be introduced in the school curriculum. He hopes to expand the project by including the corporate world and using digital technology to educate the youth on environmental issues.

The artworks can be accessed remotely from anywhere in the world, via the Phone Call to the World Interactive Media Map.

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