They started out as portraits of people from around the world whose lives had been affected by climate change.
However, before the artist had even been able to put them on display he dramatically altered the way they look by dipping them in black paint.
It’s the dipped versions which have taken centre stage at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum as protest art. The symbolic dipping in black paint is to reflect how climate change is destroying the lives of the individuals they depict.
The paintings, by Glasgow-based artist Iain Campbell, have been commissioned by Christian Aid, Islamic Relief UK and Tearfund ahead of COP26, to shine a spotlight on stories from the vulnerable communities within which they work that are on the frontline of the climate crisis.
Protest Art: a Lament in Black Paint opened yesterday and the artist responsible for the art works hopes people will understand what he is trying to highlight as well as opening up making a difference to the climate change debate.
Mr Campbell felt privileged to collaborate on the project and wants people to take the time to see the paintings while they are at the Kelvingrove and read the stories behind them.
"When I paint portraits, it elevates who this person is in people's minds. People become curious about who is in the painting and want to know what their story is. We want the public to be curious about the real stories of those on the frontline of the climate emergency and hungry to see climate justice," said Mr Campbell.
Those featured in the paintings are Joyce, a mother of two from Malawi, who lost her home during a cyclone in Malawi. She has now re-trained as a tailor; Rita, from Bangladesh, she and her family were living in extreme poverty in an area battered by cyclones and storms. Rita now grows sunflowers for a living, and Dhital, from Nepal, he and his family lost their home and livelihood in devastating floods. They now have a new home that is both earthquake and flood-resistant.
Mr Campbell, who also painted Our Last Supper, featuring thirteen guests of Glasgow City Mission to highlight homelessness, met Dhital during a trip to Nepal and felt compelled to use this story through art.
“Dhital and his family are an example of people around who have probably done the least damage to our planet by the way they live their lives, but yet are paying the price for what countries around the world have done. I wanted to show through art how people’s lives, just as the paintings, are being destroyed by climate change.
The three international development organisations hope the works will help amplify global voices in the build up to COP26.
Sally Foster-Fulton, head of Christian Aid Scotland, said: “Protest art allows us to explore the issues around climate change in a really powerful way and by dipping each painting in black paint we’re able to visually represent the way the actions of the industrialised north are impacting on our sisters and brothers around the world.
“This injustice must be at the heart of COP26 and the voices of communities in the global south must be at the centre of decision-making. Each portrait is one of our global neighbours and we owe it to Joyce, Rita and Dhital and the communities they represent, to make sure their stories and lived experiences are amplified this November.”
Maria Zafar, Campaigns and Public Affairs Coordinator at Islamic Relief UK said the project brings attention to the impact climate change is having on vulnerable communities – and to ensure they are not forgotten during COP 26 negotiations next month.
Ms Zafar said: “Climate emergencies are becoming more frequent, and whilst we may see them reported on the news, we rarely see how communities adapt in the long run.
“These images seek to change that. They are a vivid representation of the effects climate change is having on communities worldwide and how individuals are forced to change their lifestyles in the face of devastation.”
Graeme McMeekin, Head of Tearfund Scotland, said this was a real opportunity to tell people’s stories on the eve of the summit.
Mr McMeekin said: "This exhibition is such a striking but sobering way to convey the damage our organisations are seeing on a daily basis around the world, as people are increasingly being pushed back further into extreme poverty as a result of the climate crisis. For every bit of progress, we take a backwards step when we fail to address this harsh reality, which Iain has captured so vividly.
"With COP26 right on our doorstep, we have a real opportunity right now to tell the stories of those who cannot be in Glasgow at this time, but whose lives and livelihoods hang in the balance with every word uttered at this conference."
Councillor David McDonald, Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council said the paintings show the consequences of global warming.
“COP26 is a real opportunity for us all to make the changes needed to stop more lives around the world being destroyed by the effects of climate change,” said Councillor McDonald. “These paintings demonstrate the all too real consequences of global warming and are a stark reminder of exactly what is at stake when many of the world’s leaders head to Glasgow at the end of the month. Glasgow has already declared a climate emergency because we realise the effects being felt today will only become worse in the generations to come without new measures being agreed.”
The exhibition runs from Kelvingrove until October 24 and will then it will go on tour and appear at a number of prominent venues in the city during COP26 including Glasgow Cathedral, St George’s Tron and Glasgow Central Mosque.
This article was originally published in The Herald on 12 October 2021 by Deborah Andreson.