In a world grappling with pressing environmental issues, artists are stepping up to inspire conversations and ignite change. From the vibrant cityscape of Singapore emerges Dorcas Tang Wen Yu, whose creative journey beautifully marries her artistic passion with her dedication to shedding light on climate change, biodiversity, and our intricate relationship with the natural world.
Drawing from her innate love for art and the solace of journaling, Dorcas has embarked on a transformative voyage. What began as an exploration of personal thoughts and stories evolved into a purposeful fusion of art and activism. Her intricate artwork and thought-provoking writing now serve as vehicles to convey vital messages about our environment. Join us as we delve into this insightful interview, exploring Dorcas’ inspirations, the potent role of eco-artistry, and her unyielding commitment to nurturing a more sustainable and harmonious planet for all.
Tell us about your creative journey. How did you become interested in art and writing?
Since young, I have always loved art as a way to express myself. I often journalled down my thoughts in order to understand them, and made up silly stories to help me get through chemistry classes. I had started a small art business at that time and decided to just insert a few pieces to spark conversation about the subject. Slowly, they started to gain attention, so I decided to transition into climate artivism because I realized that this was a good way to get the ball rolling.
What inspires you to create your artwork?
A lot of things! I look to nature a lot to seek wisdom about the way the world works. My personal experiences, emotions, and other people’s personal stories help me to understand the world a lot better which translates into my artwork.
Through your artwork and writing you try to raise awareness on climate change, biodiversity, our connection with nature and so many more topics. When and why did you choose to focus on these themes/topics?
The more I learned about climate justice, the more I understand that this is a values issue. It’s not that we don’t know about climate change, but our systems are built such that we rarely have the mental capacity to think about it because we are constantly focused on surviving. Planetary, community, and self-care. All of these things are interconnected and I try to infuse these narratives into both the process and output of my art. Currently, there’s a disconnect between the way climate science is being communicated. So by touching on themes of care, and using whimsical imagery to get people’s attention, I hope to get people more emotionally invested in caring about the issue.
As an artist, what role do you think eco-artists and storytellers play in addressing climate change and promoting a sustainable lifestyle?
There are also many ways to engage the community through art, not just in communications. I like to think of it in terms of the head, heart, and the soul. Art can be used to break down difficult information into narratives that are more digestible for the wider community to consume. This is especially important because climate knowledge can be very dense and full of jargon. The second is to engage the heart. What are the emotional barriers that drive or impede us to take climate action? How do we feel about it? What kind of personal stories can we bring in to make it more relatable? How can we drive conversation around it by engaging the community in a way that is fun and participatory? And the last is to engage the soul. There is a Malay saying that goes, “Tak kenal maka tak cinta”, which translated into “You can’t love what you don’t know.” I’ve realized that one of the key reasons why, especially in Singapore, people don’t feel especially invested in climate action, is because our systems and urban environment are far removed from nature. Thus, art is an effective way to help people notice the beauty and joy of nature, and build a stronger connection with it. Using this 3 pronged method, art can be a holistic way to drive climate action.
What’s your take on climate optimism as an artist/artivist?
It’s constant practice! It’s hard to be an optimist all the time, but what I try to do is just to live in the present moment and know that I cannot control what happens in the future. Holding onto the faith that eventually it’ll be better, even if it’s not in my lifetime or in the near future.
Dorcas, apart from art and writing, do you have other hobbies?
Haha, my other hobbies are pretty boring, I love to watch shows and listen to music in my downtime. I especially love animations! My favorites are Wolfwalkers and Avatar the Last Airbender, for their takes on environmental and social issues. I also really love listening to artists like AURORA and Melanie Martinez because of the rawness of their music and the way it speaks to the human experience.
How do you try to practice sustainability in your regular life?
- Trying as much as possible to say no to plastic! Although it is definitely really hard.
- As an artist, ordering low quantities of merchandise and from sustainable sources as much as possible. Also making sure to reuse packaging or to avoid it entirely.
- Taking public transport or walking most of the time!
- Keeping up to date with climate news when I have the emotional capacity
- Upcycling my old clothing, buying second hand or swapping
- Educating others gently on sustainability
What is your favorite local food? Does climate change have any impact on it?
I love love love pork porridge. Although I would love to be, I am not vegan at the moment. But the impact of the meat industry in its contribution to climate change is something I think about often, so I am trying to reduce my consumption of it, and looking for alternatives that taste as good!
You have an e-book, “Happily, Ever After ?” – can you tell us a bit about it and how it explores eco-emotions?
“Happily, Ever After?” is a collection of poems centered around the emotions experienced in the midst of our long and grueling fight against climate change. Explored through familiar fairytale creatures and tropes, this collection seeks to acknowledge the intense feelings that one might experience, questioning if there is an end to our emotions in the uncertain fate of our homeland. And most importantly, the nagging question that sits at the back of our minds: Is there a ‘happily, ever after?’
What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?
Slow down. It’s ok to take a step back, and if taking climate action ends up negatively impacting your life, then that defeats the purpose of the movement too. Rest if needed, find community, and know that you are not alone.
How do you envision your future?
My hope is that human and nature rights eventually become obvious to us, and our policies will reflect this shift in values. Embrace prioritizing care for one another as opposed to chasing extractive measurements of success. I think we can have more events where people in ASEAN can exchange stories with each other so that we can have a stronger sense of community and camaraderie with each other.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
- Jacinda Ardern, leading the nation with both strength and kindness, being fiercely loyal to her values even with the current state of the political world, knowing where her boundaries are, and being brave enough to admit when she needs to step down.
- Ms Mizah Rahman, one of the co-founders of Participate in Design. She was my teacher from polytechnic and I always looked up to her for her conviction in Building a more inclusive Singapore where every voice has a space to be heard, not just the experts.
- Robin Wall Kimmerer and her love for the natural environment. Sitting with them and understanding each life for what they are. Recognizing them as fellow beings and being able to communicate eloquently that perfectly illustrates the beauty of nature. Admire her ethos and the way she is able to make nature and human rights sound obvious as if it should have been there the whole time.
- Uncle Iroh from Aang the Last Airbender. Even though he was not the main protagonist of the series, he was always quietly supporting his nephew in unconditional love, even when he betrayed him. He knew where his values were and wasn’t afraid to stick by them, not in a way that’s necessarily overt, but in a way that’s gentle and kind.
What’s your mantra for life?
I don’t know if this will change anything, but I know it’s the right thing to do.
This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.