An acclaimed Black artist is harnessing her lifelong passion for art to address some of the biggest challenges – and possible solutions – facing humanity and the environment, as the countdown to COP26 continues.
In less than four months, more than 190 global leaders will gather in the UK city of Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, to accelerate action towards ambitious targets aimed at cutting carbon emissions and safeguarding the world’s future.
Leading experts from the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment will be contributing to the discussions and a high-profile campaign has been launched in the city this month to bring the important issues at stake to a wider audience.
The campaign designs are the brainchild of Emma Blake Morsi, aged 24, who has created a series of evocative billboards and posters, currently emblazoned across Bristol, to highlight how innovative, pioneering research holds the key to unlocking such pressing problems, including access to water, sanitation, and sustainable food sources.
Emma, of British-Nigerian heritage, who was raised in the city, said: “Leading this campaign fulfils a big ambition because I’m passionate about finding creative solutions to the world’s social and sustainable challenges. COP26 may not be on everyone’s radar, so this is an important and exciting way to make the hot topics under discussion more accessible and relatable.”
The keynote design vibrantly illustrates the interdependent fragility of ecosystems, which are vital for plants, water, and food, while emphasising that access to water and sanitation is a human right. Another captures the ravages of climate change, depicting a scene of desolate drylands juxtaposed against lush greenery – a harsh reality which imperils 2 billion people.
“I really immersed myself in the research so I could fully understand it and make the artwork both appealing and meaningful. The response so far has been fantastic and I’m proud of the result,” Emma said.
“The biggest reward is that the designs might spark ideas and conversations with people walking past on the street or waiting for the bus who have never thought about or maybe weren’t even aware of the issues before. I truly believe creative art can help champion environmental progress and that discussions about climate change, and possible solutions, must be inclusive, starting at a grass-roots level. There’s no better place than out on the street to do that.”
Climate change is clearly a cause close to Emma’s heart and the messages appear to be hitting home in more ways than one.
“I went for a walk and was surprised, as well as thrilled, to see the most colourful design on a billboard not far from my house,” she said.
“Producing the work in lockdown has been difficult for all sorts of reasons, so this was quite an emotional moment. My family, who also live locally, have been spotting them in different places and are very proud.”
Although Emma is now an award-winning artist and writer, who uses multiple story-telling mediums including graphics, photography, and film, her path to success has at times been a struggle with frequent moves all over Bristol and caring commitments to juggle alongside schoolwork while growing up.
Emma said: “The journey has often been hard but doing art has always made me happy. From an early age I’ve been independent and very driven – I’ve had to be. I was freelancing in art and writing as a teenager and even set up my own magazine.”
After years of carefully honing her skills which started in early childhood, Emma had gained her Gold Arts Award at the age of 18 and a place to study BSc Fashion Management at university.
“It was by no means certain I would go to uni and get a degree as by that point I had my freelance and creative work to fall back on,” she said. “I’m glad I did because it made me push new boundaries and ignite a new passion for STEM subjects. I also gained the opportunity to live abroad in Germany, working as an intern for a major global company on its sustainable creative direction and design. My research involved studying the circular economy and developing waste management systems, which was totally fascinating.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Emma is also working on a wide range of other artistic projects to advance inclusion and innovation.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for everyone and marginalised groups have been hit especially hard. Finalising my degree last year while isolating by myself for 11 weeks was incredibly difficult, but this campaign is a reminder of the important work I aim to continue to do. Our survival depends on finding answers to these huge challenges and time is running out.”
Professor Guy Howard, Interim Director of the Cabot Institute for the Environment and Global Research Chair of Environmental and Infrastructure Resilience at the University of Bristol, said: “Thank you Emma for creating such a wonderfully vibrant and engaging series of designs, which really bring to life the huge global challenges we’re facing and how research happening right here in Bristol plays a crucial role in tackling them.
“The agreements on action reached at COP26 will have a bearing on all our lives both now and long into the future, so it’s important to raise awareness and improve understanding of pressing problems, such as access to water and sustainable food sources. I hope this fantastic artwork sparks lots of conversations about climate change and related issues, while also encouraging people to find out more about the amazing work scientists are undertaking to identify possible solutions.”
Jess Bunyan, Development Manager at Rising Arts Agency, a partner in the campaign, said: “It was great to work with the Cabot Institute and think about how this very important research could be communicated en masse on the streets of Bristol creatively through the art created by Emma. Young people are at the forefront of climate activism so it’s really exciting to combine that with climate research. The fact that it’s sitting alongside this year’s #WhoseFuture poster campaign which is all about Care and Wellbeing is even better. Being informed about the climate crisis allows young people and everyone who sees these posters to advocate for change. We really enjoyed working with the team, seeing the posters come to life and hope that people are motivated to find out more by this artwork.”
Prints of the designs are being produced to raise funds for intersectional environmental charities.
About the Cabot Institute for the Environment
The Cabot Institute for the Environment is a diverse community of 600 experts, united by a common cause: protecting our environment and identifying ways of living better with our changing planet. Find a climate change expert.
About Emma Blake Morsi
Emma Blake Morsi is an award-winning Multi-disciplinary Producer, Non-executive Director of Rising Arts Agency and Bristol City Council’s Culture Board member. A prolific visual storyteller, she predominantly works across photography, words, graphics, film and events, and has been training as a creative intersectional environmentalist following years in STEM. Her research consisted of developing a sustainable circular system repurposing waste substances. Bristol-raised, she previously lived in Germany as PUMA’s Global Creative Direction & Design intern, primarily shifting their work to authentically centre on representation and sustainability innovation. As the Content and Partnerships Manager for the ethical marketing and PR agency Enviral to former Lifestyle Assistant Editor of gal-dem, Emma challenges approaches to inclusion and innovation in the spaces she works in, producing work that can be experienced by all but most importantly gives visibility to and engages those from marginalised groups. Find out more.