Driven by a feeling that a lot of art might be aesthetically pleasing but lacking in real meaning, photographer Elena Cremona decided to initiate a collective intentionally following a different approach. Together with artist and curator Maela Ohana, she founded The Earth Issue in October 2016, a pool of artists looking to tirelessly combine each display of their creativity with a second, significant layer. In this way, Elena and Maela are providing a platform for addressing environmental issues through visual expression, shaped by photographers, sculptors, and illustrators, and intended as a primarily image-based project.

With “The Earth Issue” you chose to promote environmentalism with exhibitions and a magazine. Why are creative outlets especially good ways to get people engaged?

If you think about environmental issues you think about all the scientific data, but how can you really identify with data you don’t necessarily understand? I’m not a scientist so if you show me a bunch of numbers I’m not going to really get them. But if you show me a picture of some beautiful landscape it’s going to trigger some emotion in me and I think that’s what art does. It sparks meaning and it asks questions. And it’s just easier to connect to a picture than to a text. You can get more from a picture because a text already tells you what you need to know. It tells you facts. A picture is up for your own interpretation. So it’s just about translating all of this data and all of these issues that seem very unapproachable in a way that is very approachable.

In line with that approach, is it better to display nature in a beautiful or in an alarming way?

Both works. We mostly show nature in a beautiful way because people can identify more with appreciation of nature. But we do welcome destruction as well because it actually shows you the truth, it shows you the reality that’s there. No one wants to see that, but it’s a harsh fact. And we are here to support that, regardless of how horrible it is. Because it’s true, we damage the world massively.

Still, a lot of people seem to be oblivious to these changes and threats.

I think people have trouble going beyond themselves. It’s quite easy to just get stuck with yourself instead of actually seeing the world for what it is, that it needs help, that it needs voices, that it needs a community. If you have love for others then you have love for the planet as well. It’s sad to see that often a big disaster needs to happen first for people to stand together. Why can’t we be a community before that already? We’re all in this together and we need to see beyond ourselves.

Is that why the collective approach is so important to “The Earth Issue” as well?

For me it’s always about connecting, regardless if I connect with other people or if I connect through art. And I think connecting can’t be done alone, you need other people to help you. As a group, as a collective, you have more voices, a stronger leg to stand on and you just have way more power. From the start I wanted people to come together and create works that say something and raise awareness. And then it just kind of grew, and more and more artists got involved and wanted to share their stories and how they feel about nature.

Have you noticed a shift in artists’ interest in the environment as a topic since starting “The Earth Issue”?

I think we’re at a point now where we realise that we can actually make a difference, that there is power in our voices. There definitely are more and more people who are interested in collaborating, wanting to participate in helping the world, wanting to make a change. And there are so many ways in which you can change things or just make less of a damaging impact. You don’t have to do that much, it’s just about realising what you can do as an individual to help.

You said “The Earth Issue” is all about people sharing their stories in relation to the environment. What is the story you want to tell with “The Earth Issue”?

If anything my purpose on this earth is to try and inspire as much as I can. So if I can spark someone’s reaction about a piece of my work and they will be like “Yeah, that nature is amazing; that landscape is beautiful; it’d be really horrible to see that gone in 20 years,“ then that’s what I want to do. I think people assume that these landscapes can be replaced, but they can’t. They are so irreplaceable. So we’re just trying to motivate people, to inspire something in them for them to realize: “I do have a voice and I can make a change.“

Meet the next generation of environmental activists: Artist Wilson Oryema, filmmaker Ayesha Tan-Jones, and activist Firas Nasr.


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