University students took up arms — scissors in one hand, paintbrush in the other — on October 23 in Campbell Hall’s Elmaleh Gallery. Urban and Environmental Planning Prof. Jennifer Lawrence united these students by hosting the Like the Waters We Rise Poster Workshop, teaching art as a method for climate justice activism.
Lawrence opened the workshop with a short presentation titled “Critique and Creativity for Climate Change” to explain how creative expression can be used for social justice. She continued the School of Architecture’s ongoing conversation regarding climate transformation and her own interest in artistic responses to climate disasters.
The presentation introduced the idea of solastalgia, which describes grief due to a lack of control over the changing environment. Lawrence said that art can be a way to cope with solastalgia before we find the language to articulate that hopelessness.
During the presentation, Lawrence covered her artistic inspirations that express grief over climate change, ranging from paintings to photographs to poems. She also prompted those in attendance to consider what events qualify as a disaster.
“We think about an oil spill or a mine explosion…as a disaster, but we don’t classify something like persistent poverty or the everyday conditions that are happening alongside frontline communities…as a disaster,” Lawrence said.
For Lawrence, studying art in response to disasters allowed her to bring light to issues that are forced to the sidelines, issues that affect real people and require a technical or policy solution.
“[Climate change is] not just a crisis of ecology, it’s a crisis of democracy,” Lawrence said during her presentation. “It’s a crisis of accountability.”
Lawrence called on workshop participants to consider the issues they care about most and turn their distress into posters with paper cutouts, paint, markers and more.
Like Lawrence, fourth-year Architecture student Elodie Price was inspired by Earth’s ongoing climate crisis. She shaped warm-colored flower cutouts into a flame to make a statement about the world being on fire.
Meanwhile, fourth-year Architecture student Maille Bowerman painted a poster supporting the Free Palestine movement. She cited the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as her inspiration.
Fourth-year Architecture student Lauren Buford took a light-hearted approach to the crafting portion of the workshop. As a proponent for taking bugs outside rather than killing them, Buford created a poster that read “Don’t Kill Bugs,” exemplifying that true advocacy relies on everyday kindness.
In another act of everyday kindness, Lawrence hosted this inspiring workshop alongside the School of Architecture’s newly acquired “Like the Waters We Rise” poster collection displayed in the Elmaleh Gallery. Originally curated in Brooklyn by curator Raquel de Anda and artist-activist Josh MacPhee, the box collection features 23 posters from a variety of historical climate and labor-related events dating from 1968 to 2022.
One of Lawrence’s favorite posters read, “Katrina was a problem; HUD is a disaster.” The poster condemned the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for its inadequate responses to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“[The poster] really reinforced the ideas that I’ve been thinking around governance as a disaster or the way that governance sometimes isn’t able to respond to what’s happening in terms of climate,” Lawrence said.
Other posters mobilized protests for ongoing resistance movements against unfair working conditions. Exposure to environmental dangers such as cotton dust that causes lung disease was one of the many working conditions that are often cast off as a product of the environment, but the protest posters called out legislators for their failure to protect laborers.
To Lawrence, the Like the Waters We Rise posters and other creative responses to disasters are not just a “call to action,” as Lawrence said in her presentation. They are a “creative way to reimagine” the future, a way to decompress our anxieties and solastalgia while looking to a better tomorrow, as Lawrence said.
Get inspired by the Like the Waters We Rise exhibition, which will remain in the Elmaleh Gallery until Oct. 29.