Jess Harwood Art bushfire cartoon

Art as activism: bright cartoons with punchy messages

Jess Harwood is a Sydney-based artist, cartoonist and communications professional who is passionate about protecting the natural world, wildlife and combating climate change. She has long been involved in community groups and the not-for-profit sector and has recently started using her art to support her activism.

Jess loves telling important stories to highlight campaign moments and shedding light on the underhand methods that big mining companies, developers and lobby groups use to profit at the expense of people and the planet.

Sydney-based artist, cartoonist and activist Jess Harwood.
Sydney-based artist, cartoonist and activist Jess Harwood.

Jess recently took the time to chat about her art and campaign work.

I read in one of your Instagram posts that you used to work as a lawyer briefly. Why did you decide to stop? Is your art now your full-time vocation?

I have always been keen to change our environmental laws, so they protect and preserve our precious environment, our wildlife and our heritage.

Art with a clear message.
Art with a clear message. Copyright: Jess Harwood Art.

However, once I graduated I saw that the changes I could make as a lawyer would be incremental. I also realised that I was actually more interested in building social movements to generate the change we need. That’s why I left the law and then started working in the NGO sector.

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The transformative power of environmental art: Creating beauty from plastic waste

When environmental artist John Dahlsen first started experimenting with what would soon become his creative medium of choice, it had some of his friends slightly worried. The huge piles of plastic rubbish – all neatly sorted by colour – that had taken over much of the available space in the artist’s house certainly raised eyebrows. “Some of my friends asked me if I was OK”, the Byron Bay based environmental artist remembers laughingly.

Byron Bay based environmental artist John Dahlsen.
John Dahlsen is an environmental artist based in Byron Bay. Image credit: John Dahlsen.

But what may have initially looked like an odd quirk, turned out to be a tremendous source of inspiration. In fact, it would change the course of his career.

The artworks that John created from plastic rubbish washing ashore on local beaches catapulted him into the Australian art scene and helped him win international acclaim.

In 2000, John received the prestigious Wynne Prize for his Thong Totems sculpture and was selected as a finalist in 2003 and again in 2004. His work featured in exhibitions in Florence, Milan, New York, Beijing – and countless places in between.

Absolut and Nespresso commissioned work from him to raise awareness about plastic pollution and recycling long before the David Attenborough effect brought the issue into the mainstream.

The accidental environmental artist

All of this was set in motion by happenstance. In 1997, John discovered the potential of plastic rubbish as a means for creative expression while scouring remote beaches in Victoria for driftwood to make furniture. “I noticed all this plastic washing up, so I started picking it up with the intention to take it to the local tip for recycling,” recounts John.

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Sarah wants to raise awareness for Australian threatened species

wild_ about Australia’s threatened species

Australia is home to some of the world’s most unique wildlife. Yet, sadly we’re not doing such a great job in protecting the continent’s rare natural environment. More than 1,800 plant and animal species are at risk of becoming extinct and the environment department has admitted to having no clue if Australia’s threatened species plans are actually being implemented.  

Raising awareness for the plight of Australia’s wildlife is something that’s close to Sarah Ash’s heart. A couple of years ago the Queensland based mother, photographer, videographer and musician started wild_ –  a photo project, showcasing Australia’s endangered wildlife.

Eclectus parrot
This Eclectus parrot was more interested in what’s happening behind the camera than posing in front of it.
Image: wild_

Sarah took the time to chat about her creative project.

What motivated you to start wild_?

I started wild_ a few years ago while I was working for an environmental management company. I was doing some research for the company’s social media page and came across all these animals I had never heard about.

These species were also listed as endangered and I wanted to do something to raise awareness. If I hadn’t heard about them, this was probably also true for most Australians. So, I decided to use my skills to try and do something about it.

Koala
Urban expansion continues to threaten Koalas.  Image: wild_
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