How art is providing remedies for climate change

A dancer performs an eco piece dubbed ‘Sisobola Kusa’. PHOTOS | GABRIEL BUULE

What you need to know:

  • For years, art has been used as tool for social change across the globe. From fighting pandemics and advocating for social wellbeing, various art forms are used to decrypt messages and call the citizens to take action. As the world joins hands to find lasting solutions to save the planet, creatives in Uganda are using art as a tool for sensitisation and prescribing solutions, writes Gabriel Buule.

In a Katwe slum, Kampala, a man’s head is stashed with plastic bottles. He seems stranded and struggles to move on a heap of poorly disposed plastic bottles.  Rhythmically,  he tries to cling onto whatever he finds.

Another man passing looks at the man with the plastic bottles and shouts ‘Sisobola kusa, Sisobola kusa’ meaning ‘I cannot breathe’ as he beats a long drum (Engalabi).

Onlookers gather to see what exactly taking place.

Abdul Kinyenya Muyingo, the creator of this street pop up dance piece explains that the performance which he and his group - Batalo East - show-case to people in urban slums aims at sensitising the public against poor plastic disposal as they prescribe solutions such as recycling.

This mixed-media performance piece is a combination of dance, poetry, drums and painting as the tools and the daily life of the venue as the canvas to paint the picture of what makes people unable to breathe properly.

“We do not have proper venues and that is deliberate. All we do is to take the art to the people and the audience builds itself. Later on we organise paid for performances in theatres,” Kinyenya explains.

He adds that this particular piece seeks to counter plastic-based pollution that is taking over Kampala’s environment whilst blocking the sewage system of the city. 

“With intention, the dance piece embraces the topic and approaches the issue of climate change,” Kinyenya says, adding that as a choreographer, he is aware that art expresses what happens in the different societies. 

However, currently his team is glued to the possibilities of art questioning, provoking critical thought and providing a template to tabling solutions to climate change.

Where message is needed

Uganda is already experiencing the impacts of climate variability and researchers say these impacts are expected to increase incase no action is taken.

That’s why artistes are deploying a wide range of art-forms to give the right attention to mitigate unanswered questions in-line with climate change.

However, Kinyenya says the game changer is that artistes are deliberately choosing to take art to places where the message is much more needed. 

“With climate change, we need to go beyond walls of theatre spaces,” he adds.

In quite a similar manner visual artist Sandra Suubi creates climate change themed outfits that she exhibits during her performances .

Not just dance

Much as dance is at the fore front in the fight against climate change, there are very many art-forms that have been used to communicate and call people to actions.

Award winning musician Kenneth Mugabi’s recently released song titled People of the land off his new music album People of the land.  On the song, he calls upon Ugandans to raise up against whatever  is affecting the environment.

The four-minute song castigates leaders who enrich themselves while selling natural resources such as wetlands and forests.

Boys collect bottles in a swamp.

He also asks the young generation to plant trees and safeguard wetlands before mother earth gets annoyed as he further suggests that this can be achieved if leaders rally communities through community service, also known as bulunji bwansi.

It is not just a beautiful  song but the melodies and rhythm are emotional enough to push the listeners to think and pay attention to the lyrics. Similar musical works are popular in schools and in mainstream music where some songs are deliberately written around climate change as a theme or getting mentioned in a verse.

Similar trend has also taken to theatres where plays dedicated to climate change are often showcased. The most recent is a play by Cli-Mates of Change Advocates drama group, which performs plays to the public to create awareness and sensitise communities on environmental protection.

The group acts, sings, dances, and recites poems on the impacts of climate change by exposing human activities that destroy the environment while prescribing solutions.

Fashion and visual art

Fashion is another art form at the heart of mitigating climate change world over and the story is not different.

In May 2023, creatives came together to unveil environmental friendly fashions at an exhibition dubbed Kwanza.

The event rallied fashion designers to use materials that are not harmful to the environment to come up with Eco-conscious fashion brands using materials like polythene, tyres, backcloth and old clothes among others.

Godfrey Katende, the lead organiser of Kwanza explains that the annual event is meant to rally fashion designers to use materials that are not harmful to the environment.

“The fashion industry can contribute to social justice and civic engagement. That is why we are opting for fashion which we understand better to tackle the issue of climate change,” Katende says.

In his explanation, he suggests that if a car tyre is used to make a hand bag, it would take many years for the owner to throw it away. And this is one way of addressing littering or burning to curb emissions.

Allen Nabukenya alias Njola of Njola Impressions explains that much as her fashion business thrives on old tyres, sandal and polythene papers to make handbags she has come to realise that it is another amazing way to mitigate climate pollution.

She says when a tyre is no longer functional, it pauses a risk to the environment and recycling is the most effective approach to safeguard the environment. She collects tyres from organisations and dumping sites, which she later recycles to make products.

In a similar manner, Mukasa Najib of Bobbin Case fashion uses old fabric to create fashion with stories that inspire communities to be conscious. His outfit Omutaka and Nabakyaala paints a historical picture of Uganda’s social trends.

Dorothy Nabunjo, the proprietor of Xenson art-space explains that communicating about climate change is complicated but visual art is doing a great job to solve the problem.

She shares that many artistes have deliberately create climate change themed art works. She adds that art makes people to imagine the effects of climate change, but also to relate it to their own local communities.

“An art piece that depicts a sad child in deserted place and another playing in water would clearly push any person to think before they cut a tree or defile a wetland,” she explains.

Nabunjo share that she often receives people at the gallery who look at climate change themes art pieces and they suddenly end up into a conversation about climate change.

In Uganda, artistes such as Sandra Suubi, Samson Ssenkaaba alias Xenson, George Kabonge among others have created climate themed art pieces to contribute to combating climate change.

Not funded

Robert Musiitwa, the spokesperson of the Uganda National cultural centre reveals that the entity currently has no budget to support artistes who create works with social interests.

He explains that much as they have often proposed to government to create a fund to support creatives especially those who projects that serve interests of common good but funding is yet to come through.

“We highlighted themes like climate change, health, gender based violence among others and we proposed to that there must be a deliberate agenda to support such works but we are yet to get funding,” he adds.

Today, most artistes in Uganda are self-funded and others are thriving on grants and support from civil society.

According to the National Budget Framework Paper for 2023/2024, the votes mapped under the Natural resources, Environment, Climate Change, Land and Water Management Programme have been allocated a total budget of Shs 547 billion, of which 269 billion is domestic funding and Shs 279 billion is external financing.

Recently, Finance minister Matia Kasaija warned that the country is heading to tougher times if the government does not put aside a special budget for climate change mitigation.

The Uganda Climate Change Act, 2021, empowers the Finance minister in consultation with his Water and Environment counterpart to provide for climate change financing.

Uganda is a signatory to 22 April 2016 Paris Agreement where Nations committed to reduce their emissions and work together to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and calls on countries to strengthen their commitments over time.