Climate Change Art: Artists Speak Up for Climate in Vietnam

Vietnam is considered to be one of the countries most affected by climate change. Its Mekong Delta is one of the world’s three most vulnerable deltas to sea-level rise together with the Nile Delta in Egypt and the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Nevertheless, the Vietnamese public awareness of the causes, impacts and mitigation of climate change is still very limited, especially knowledge about fossil fuels as the leading cause of climate change. Through mural street art which is visible to hundreds of thousand city residents, messages on climate change causes and impacts and renewable energy as the ultimate solution for Vietnam are conveyed in such an inspirational way to the public.

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Back in August 2017, CHANGE/350.org Vietnam organized the mural painting contest “City 2030: Climate Change and Clean Energy” to raise public voice against fossil fuels and to promote renewable energy. The mural contest attracted more than 30 young artists who submitted 34 mural entries. The top ten drawings were painted on public walls in District 1 and District 10 of Ho Chi Minh City.

This year, CHANGE/350.org revived the mural art project to call out public attention to climate change, with focus on air pollution and plastic pollution. Taking part in this year’s campaign are two artists, Trung Phan (Phan Dinh Trung) and Henna Nguyen. Despite the differences in their age, speciality, and style, both of them have the same purpose of using their paintings to engage the community to protect the environment. In order to have a more thorough understanding of the project, we sat and had a short interview with them about how and why they participate in this project and their point of views about climate activism.

Please tell us your name and what is your background as an artist/painter? Why are you participating in this Mural Street Project?

Henna: My name is Huong and my artist name is Henna Nguyen. I mostly work on traditional and digital art. I started out teaching art for kids at school, then I had an internship as a 3D artist for a production house. After my graduation at Fine Art University of Ho Chi Minh City, I became a Storyboard Artist and Visualizer/Illustrator for multinational advertising agencies. Recently, I have opened my own studio where I can focus on my own creative projects in which I can teach Art & Craft Classes and organize creative workshops. I have known CHANGE VN for a long time and I am a big fan of Mrs. Hong Hoang - the founder of CHANGE. I often take part in several campaigns that are organized by them and support them wholeheartedly. I am also deeply concerned about the critical state of our environment. Therefore, I’m very eager to join this project to promote a more sustainable development future through the use of mural street arts

Trung: My name is Trung, Phan Dinh Trung and I am an architecture student/ Urban Sketcher. To me, CHANGE’s Mural Street Project is fascinating. Not only that it provides an opportunity for me to express my artistic passion but the project happens to give me a more in-depth understanding about climate change. And this is currently one of my main environmental concern.

What is the title of your mural art, and what is the message that you are trying to convey through it?

Henna: The concept behind this piece of mural art is a simple comparison between two contrasting worlds: a world that is filled with plastic products versus the natural world. I imagine a dark world made entirely of plastic, in which trees are replaced by plastic strokes, leaves are made of plastic bags, and black smoke from burned plastics fully cover the sky without greenery from the ground. The ocean would also suffer from this epidemic where there are all sorts of plastic wastes; sea creatures would struggle to survive and some are trapped by plastic rings. Contrast to the sad reality of plastic pollution, there are still remaining parts of our beautiful and natural world which make us wonder about the possibility of saving it in time. Along with the slogan of iCHANGE Plastic Project: ‘'Say No to Single-Use Plastic!", I believe that everyone can be a hero and save our Earth through small but impactful actions.

Trung: The name of this painting is “Không Khí Sạch – Bầu Trời Xanh”, it means “ Clean Air – Blue Sky”
Ho Chi Minh City is known as one of the major industrial cities in Vietnam. There are plenty of factories and crowded streets filled with vehicles. Such an inexorable growth of development has lead to increasing air pollution in our city. I hope that through my mural street art, people will understand how critical our role is in the fight against climate change and that we should take immediate actions to reduce air pollution for our future generations.

How do you see Climate Change as a global issue, or as national/local issue in Vietnam? If you could change one thing in your country from an environmental perspective, what would that be?

Henna: I believe that everyone knows this is a global issue but we have yet to find a plausible and effective solution. Especially in Vietnam, the issue has only gained attention in recent years. In my community, people start taking this issue seriously by getting more information through different environmental workshops. They change their daily behaviors as well as opt for a sustainable and green lifestyle. I believe Vietnam needs to increase the use of public transportation such as train, metro, electric buses and electric ferries. We also need to shift to a more renewable source of energy. For instance, implementing solar energy on a mass scale to provide sustainable energy for daily consumption from households and offices.

Trung: Climate Change is a global issue. If I could change one thing, it would be the quality of public transportation in the city. Motorbike is the most popular means of transportation in Viet Nam. It’s the easiest way to get around our city, but with such a large amount of motorbike users, it would release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. By improving the quality of public transportation, this will surely attract more people to use them and would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and energy consumption.

Climate Change / Environmental awareness is still not an issue for common people as they feel the issue is far from their daily lives. Can Art help save the Planet?

Yes, we do believe that art is a powerful tool that can help save our Earth. In general, artists are more hypersensitive when it comes to these issues, and so they can depict these environment messages for their community through the use of art since it is more interactive and engaging to understand. 

How do you see the power of Art, in this case, Mural Street Paintings to spread the climate change awareness and to make changes in daily life?

Henna: I think that art has the power to explain and make people aware of their surroundings. The language through painting is thought-provoking and powerful, with no cultural or geographic boundaries. We can use painting - posters - infographic to spread the message of sustainable development and encourage people to change their daily habits. This mural street art is another example of effective art, turning empty walls into beautiful street art in order to convey meaningful messages. Years ago, I teamed up with my peers to create and donate our paintings and sell printed postcards in order to raise awareness and earn money to support people who have been affected by "sea pollution" related to the Formosa's incident back in 2016.

Trung: I believe that meaningful street paintings can be engaging and can speak to the audience through the artists’ perspective. By viewing this street art, bypassers would realize the negative impact of climate change and have a shift in their attitude and mindset on environmental issues.

Do you think that the creativity of Art can be transferred to other aspects of people’s lives, regarding energy consumption, waste reduction, reduce carbon emissions? Can artists function as role models to raise awareness and advocate for change?

Henna: Yes I do think that the creativity of Art can be transferred to other aspects in daily life. Creativity usually breaks habits and routines and very often artists use the lens of art to question the normal. In history, there were artists that took action to help raise awareness of reality and harmonize humans with their surrounding environment for the social or community purpose. I think that this movement is still taking place in our modern days.

I see many artists everywhere in the world share and teach the D.I.Y approach for daily life as well as handmade practices. And many are active in their community encouraging people to start recycling, reinventing and reusing instead of throwing used products away. In this sense, Artists has already functioned as role models to raise awareness and advocate for change”!

I am an artist and I use my creativity on available material in daily life. I apply my creative ideas to craft things by using recycled materials. For example, I apply recycled plastic to fashion by creating reusable shopping bags. Other are creating building bricks from plastic bottles. And many architects are active in designing houses and facilities that use recycled materials and utilize renewable sources of energy so as to avoid waste. Many fashion designers are reusing plastic bags to make thread to crochet rugs, bags, hats  and more. Another example of artists raising awareness for change in Vietnam is the Art installation “The Parting of the Plastic Sea” by Von Wong for Zero Waste Saigon.

Trung: Of course it can be. But all artworks need to carry a powerful message and be placed at a suitable location so it can leave a strong impression on our community. I believe in the power of art and how it can create momentum in our society. There have been records in the past where artist established controversial yet revolutionary piece of art to make bold statements on social issues. Nowadays, it is more liberating for artists to voice their opinions thanks to the widespread existence of social media. As an artist myself, I often engage my viewers in discussion on social matters through my artworks.

Are you aware of these millions of students protesting worldwide to put pressure on governments and companies to act and to raise awareness on Climate Change issues? What do you think of this movement and would this be possible in Vietnam?

Henna: I admire the courage of the students who are protesting worldwide. In the past few years, our country has witnessed a lot of peaceful protests taking place on the street, such as "saving trees" campaign saying farewell to all the trees which have been cut down to make place for the underground metro or the protest against Formosa incident to promote the message of protecting the sea and fish from chemical pollution.

Trung: I think it would be difficult to make this happen in Vietnam. First of all, protests are prohibited. But we can do it by holding a referendum to voice our opinion to our government. Unfortunately, referendum would not have any substantial result if Vietnamese people are still lacking the fundamental information about climate change or environmental awareness. Therefore, it is more effective to make people aware of the problem than to hold a protest.

What is next for Vietnam

According to the revised Vietnam Power Development Plan 2011-2020, coal is projected to be the main source for electricity production of the country, accounting for 53% in 2030. According to a study by Harvard University, Greenpeace International, and University of Colorado, entitled “Burden of Disease from Rising Coal-Fired Power Plant Emissions in Southeast Asia”, by 2030 Vietnam will be the Southeast Asian country second most affected by coal pollution in terms of premature mortality due to coal pollution, with 19,220 excess deaths per year, an almost fivefold increase from the number in 2011 of 4,252 excess deaths. The country also ranked among top five countries polluting the oceans the most with plastic waste.

In April 2015, serious coal pollution caused by Vinh Tan Coal Power Plant in Binh Thuan Province led to the first ever environmental protest in the country, where thousands of local residents blocked National Highway No. 1A for days, and clashed with the police. Recently, the proposed plan of Long An Coal Power Plant close to Ho Chi Minh City has been sparking concerns as it is projected to cause air and water pollution for about 13 million people. The petition to stop the Long An Coal Power Plant initiated by a group of Vietnamese environmental activists has gained 15,111 signatures.

Located in the tropical climate zone, Vietnam is a country with huge potential for renewable energy development, particularly from solar, wind and biomass. These will provide great alternatives to coal as a key source of energy production and help mitigate climate change impacts in the country. Nevertheless, the market for renewable energy is still small and requires appropriate policies from the government to encourage investment. Awareness-raising campaigns and advocacy for sustainable energy policy development are key to winning the climate change battle in Vietnam. Through these exciting mural projects, CHANGE/350 Vietnam hopes to raise awareness among Vietnamese public about climate change and pollution threats they are facing, and from there speak up to demand the government to cancel new coal power plants, ban single-use plastic and invest in community-based sustainable energy, for the benefits of the people and environment.

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