For eco-artist Vincent J.F. Huang (黃瑞芳), all the world’s a stage — from the beaches of Tuvalu to the conference halls of major climate conferences. This week he’s in Qatar to attend a UN climate conference, where he’s been invited to exhibit his work.
While Taiwan does not have many climate activists working in the international arena, Huang is a climate artist with a vision and he’s out to put his stamp on public awareness issues worldwide. Now in his early 40s, the Nantou County native went overseas to study art in Scotland where he received a master’s degree from Grays School of Art. Huang’s goal is to help wake up the world — and his native Taiwan — about the possible dangers of unchecked climate change and global warming in the future.
With these issues in mind, Huang will travel to Qatar this week to participate in the Qatar Sustainability Expo as part of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP 18), where he will make a plea for more attention to be paid to people of the Pacific island of Tuvalu. In September, Huang visited the island nation where he exhibited some of his works on a picturesque beach and met with government officials.
Art with impact
In a recent interview with the Taipei Times, Huang said that he felt at home there and came back to Taipei impressed by the people of Tuvalu, and their approach to the environment.
“The government and islanders were both very supportive of my two visits, one in 2010 and one this September, and they appreciated the eco-art projects I created to try to draw more international attention to the situation Tuvalu is facing in regard to climate change and rising sea levels,” Huang said.
When asked what kind of impact he feels his eco-art has on viewers worldwide, Huang said that as an artist, he believes in the power of art to effect change in attitudes.
“The art installations can lead people around the world to not only pay more attention to the crisis Tuvalu is facing on a daily basis, but also to picture more vividly the global problems of climate change,” he said.
Setting up art installations on a remote Pacific island and traveling to Qatar takes time and money. Huang received a travel grant from the Taipei Yuan Shan Rotary Club (台北圓山扶輪社) to fund his two visits to Tuvalu, he said, and for that he’s grateful. Taiwan’s ambassador in Tuvalu, Larry Tseng (曾瑞利), was also very helpful, he said.
However, in general, it’s difficult for independent artists like Huang to get funding in Taiwan since his climate-related works are not for sale or for art collectors.
“It’s ironic that many corporate enterprises here in Taiwan talk a lot about eco-friendly beliefs but very few CEOs want to do things like Britain’s Sir Richard Branson,” Huang said.
“Branson puts his money where his mouth is, and uses his public relations clout and his money to sponsor socially-relevant events and eco-art projects.”
Huang said that most people in Taiwan today don’t believe that what is happening to Tuvalu could ever happen to this island nation. “As an artist, I’m surprised that people here still don’t get it and that is a main reason I am doing my art projects. I want to wake people up in Taiwan, too. We are very much part of the ocean world, too.”
When asked how he goes about the time-consuming and arduous task of contacting government officials in a small country like Tuvalu, Huang said he relied on patience and help from the Taiwanese embassy there in conducting what he calls “art diplomacy.”