Artivism for a Resilient Future: Reflections from COP28 

By Dylan McGarry

I recently had the privilege of participating in a panel at COP28 entitled “Artivism for a Resilient Future,” organised by Hivos and the Climate Development Knowledge Network. The discussions were inspiring and surfacing the often-overlooked role of Indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge in climate research and policy, and the role artists play in working in solidarity with Indigenous movements in the climate struggle and associated poly-crises. I shared the stage with Diyah Deviyanti, Hutan Itu Indonesia/Youth Coalition, Indonesia; Mundano, Brazilian Artivist; Phylemon Okoth, Puppeteer, Kenya Institute of Puppet Theatre. I also had a chance to screen our short film Indlela Yokuphila: The Soul’s Journey.

Here’s a glimpse into the key takeaways and insights shared during the event. 

Addressing knowledge gaps through art 

The omission of Indigenous and local communities from decision-making processes was a recurring theme. Local knowledge, expressed through art, cultural experiences, and values, contains invaluable insights into resilience and adaptation. Yet, these forms of knowledge are frequently sidelined. Art and artists in solidarity with Indigenous climate movements emerged as a powerful instrument to bridge this gap, build social tissue, support solidarity, enrich translation protocols, and offer a platform to research and communicate that which science alone cannot express.

The multifaceted role of art in climate resilience 

In our discussions we explored how artists play a pivotal role in shaping climate action. The engagement with art spans three key roles: 1. using art as a platform to introduce climate issues, 2. utilising art as a medium to facilitate dialogue, conduct research and express learning, and 3. employing art as a means of social transformation and solidarity building. Art for us has become an instrument for researching complex phenomena in plural and trans-epistemological ways, strengthening social process/community building, and shaping narratives collaboratively with communities that can honour multiple ways of knowing, being and doing in times of crises. 

Art as evidence and research 

My major contribution to the event was to advocate for art’s significance beyond communication, as I put it: “Artists are extraordinary researchers, and that their making is a form of thinking, theorising and acting all at once, as such artivism should be recognised as practice-based research and we are exploring how to enter as artists policy changes, activism, and responses toward the climate crisis.” In the One Ocean Hub and through Empatheatre we have explored how art can serve as evidence in legal proceedings related to climate change, challenging established concepts of evidence and knowledge. Artists, are often viewed as communicators, are also researchers contributing to policy through forms such as theatre scripts and animations. 

Noteworthy quotes from the event: 

“How will we live with the people we love if our earth is destroyed because of the climate crisis?” – Diyah Deviyanti 

“Art can hack/enter media and social media and increase the outreach to disseminate climate information. It could also touch the heart of the people.” – Mundano 

“Community themselves came with the issues and play the process of creating their own content, write their own script for puppet theatre.” – Phylemon Okoth 

Actions, requests, and needs identified: 

International audiences and stakeholders must: 

  • Question the hierarchy of knowledge and evidence, recognising and categorising local, traditional, and Indigenous knowledge as tangible heritage. 
  • Acknowledge the insufficiency of solely relying on Western sciences, emphasising the need for a shared language that makes cultures visible, audible, and tangible—art. 
  • Address the gap in policy change and implementation by ensuring community participation, with financial support for artivism and urging artists to engage more in climate policy processes. 

As a panel we agreed on the transformative power of art in climate resilience, urging a shift towards a more inclusive, diverse, and collaborative approach in shaping our response to the climate crisis, that brings artists deeper into the fold of climate action. Otherwise we will miss so many opportunities for meaningful action, response-ability and change.  

I am grateful to Dr. Nadia Sitas from the CDKN at SouthSouthNorth both for the invite, her hosting of the day, and her help in compiling this reflection. I am also grateful to Jess Harwood, for her incredible graphic harvesting of the event.  

Artwork: Jess Harwood

Related SDGs:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Reduced inequality
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions