This artist is donating part of his BP prize money to fight climate change
Award-winning New Zealand artist Henry Christian-Slane is donating prize money won from BP directly to Greenpeace to fight the impacts of fossil fuel production. Last month, Christian-Slane, 26, won the prestigious BP Young Artist Award at London’s National Portrait Gallery presented by BP’s CEO Bob Dudley.
Christian-Slane’s work was titled ‘Gabi’, and was a portrait of his partner. The piece is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until September 24 – where it will receive around 300,000 visitors – before it tours three other galleries throughout the UK until June 2018.
In this guest post, he explains why he’s taking a stand.
I was happy to receive the award, but I’m not happy about being part of BP’s PR strategy.
Last month, at London’s National Portrait Gallery, I was presented with the BP Young Artist Award, by BP’s CEO, Bob Dudley. It’s a prestigious award, and I was happy to receive it, but I’m not happy about being part of BP’s PR strategy. And so as a symbolic act I am donating £1000 of their prize money directly to Greenpeace projects that aim to protest BP’s further extraction of fossil fuels from the Earth. I hope this action will help keep the issue of BP’s role in climate change from being overshadowed by their contribution to the arts.
I will use the rest of the prize money to continue making art as a way to effect positive change and contribute to culture. As well as portraits, I am also working
on a series of experimental 360 degree digital landscape artworks that involve taking source photographs from wilderness in New Zealand. These aim to catalyse discussion around the human conception of Nature and perception through digital mark making techniques and Virtual Reality.
I was very uncomfortable with the idea that the portrait award was being used to improve BP’s image.
Big oil companies like BP have the power to prevent the fossil fuels in the ground from entering the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, and we need to keep pressure on them to accept this responsibility. The individual has a role to play in this – as part of mitigating my own impact on the environment in travelling to London to accept this award I have offset the carbon footprint of my flights, and also donated to Million Metres in my native New Zealand, a charity which plants native trees along waterways to reduce the environmental impact of farming practices on our oceans and freshwater. But the majority of the burden must be placed on the massive corporations responsible for the extraction of these fuels from the earth, no matter what good they may do elsewhere.
The continuation of our current quality of life relies on humanity drastically reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses produced, and halting the current rate of environmental destruction. The earth’s systems that are affected by disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and global temperature rise are vital in supporting all life on earth, including the Human race. The normal functioning of the ocean systems that give us fish and the predictability of annual weather patterns for farming (to name just two benefits) are both put at risk by BPs further extraction of oil. Frequent drought, or the loss of keystone species in an ecosystem can have catastrophic effects on the natural resources we need to survive and cause irreversible biodiversity loss.
BP are currently planning to drill for oil near a huge coral reef that was only photographed for the first time this year.
The reef is in the mouth of the Amazon River, and is hidden from view by the river’s huge plume of silt. The silt also blocks most sunlight from reaching the reef, forcing the corals to rely on chemo-synthesis, rather than photosynthesis, and making this ecosystem unique in many ways. An oil spill from BP’s wells could devastate both the reef and the largest mangrove forest in the world, which follows the nearby coastline.
We don’t need this oil, in fact we can’t afford to burn it, and yet we’re risking the future of natural wonders to get it.
I feel it is my responsibility as an artist involved with the portrait award to voice my criticism of BP
I think it is an important role of artists to represent and be critical of the context they find themselves in, regardless of where funding comes from. Art should not be a passive PR tool used by corporations to carry their name and logo. I feel it is my responsibility as an artist involved with the portrait award to voice my criticism of BP and I hope the other exhibitors and award winners agree with me.
Just as the systems that support life are interconnected, so too is the art, culture and politics of our society. We should not let any of them be poisoned by oil.