March 22, 2022

PEM Celebrates Earth Day with two new Exhibitions & Special April School Vacation Week

by Felicia Cheney

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This spring, just in time for Earth Day, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents two exhibitions and special April School Vacation Week programming that explore the climate crisis and our role in it. Climate Action: Inspiring Change (April 16, 2022–July 30, 2023) is a timely and urgent exhibition that explores how we can transform the climate crisis into hope for our shared future. It brings together dynamic contemporary art, hands-on experiences and inspiring works by youth artists to help guide us toward making a difference for the planet. Konstantin Dimopoulos: The Blue Trees is an environmental call to action in the form of a participatory installation. Using a biologically-safe watercolor and a team of community volunteers, the artist temporarily transforms a selection of trees on PEM’s campus to focus our attention on the growing issue of deforestation and other threats to trees around the globe. Installation will begin on April 20, 2022, just as PEM’s April School Vacation Week: Earth Week – Art in Action kicks off. Visit for programming details.

Youth artists leverage creativity and science 

On view in PEM’s Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center, Climate Action: Inspiring Change highlights local and regional climate issues and opportunities. Most of the 28 featured artists are based in New England — including works by nine award-winning youth who participated in the Climate Hope: Transforming Crisis international student art contest in 2020 organized by Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs. The exhibition also benefited from the advice of experts with local research and environmental advocacy groups. Leveraging creativity, science and participation to raise awareness about the underlying issues of climate change, this exhibition focuses on known solutions, including Indigenous practices, to foster action. Climate Action: Inspiring Change is presented by PEM in partnership with The Climate Museum in New York, the first museum in the nation dedicated to the climate crisis. 

“Young people around the globe are leading the way for an equitable transition to a carbon-free future,” said Jane Winchell, PEM’s Sarah Fraser Robbins Director of The Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center and exhibition curator. “They’re asking brave questions, protesting against environmental injustice, starting community climate projects and sharing their hopes and fears about the climate through the power of art and creative expression. Their resolve shows us that this is not a time for despair, but a time to come together to create a culture of optimism and possibility.”

The exhibition examines how the climate crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, could be helped by “flattening the curve” to help reduce the severity of the crisis. By dramatically reducing the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere, scientists believe we can avoid the worst effects of global warming. Visitors explore climate-forward initiatives and projects around the North Shore of Massachusetts and hands-on interactive experiences that educate about energy efficiency, solar power and food systems. Many voices come together to share ways to get involved through climate and environment books and activities. And you can declare your own climate forward action by joining the Count Us In aggregator. Then snap a picture with your Action Step placard to share with others at #PEMClimateAction.

Moon Hee Kim, Melt and Slide, 2019, Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Artist Moon Hee Kim, born in South Korea and living in Boston and New Jersey, created this still life, Melt and Slide, in 2019 to bring awareness about climate change. By combining found objects like abandoned fishing poles, ropes, boats, ghost nets and buoys, the artist invites visitors to think about what kind of society creates this jumbled collection of objects, bringing viewers on a journey to explore how the environment, society and culture are linked together.

The team at Soul Fire Farm practice regenerative, no-till agriculture in New York State. Enslaved Africans brought knowledge of this carbon-capturing practice with them when enslavers first transported them to the American colonies in the 17th century, but centuries of slavery and systemic racism nearly erased it. In addition to reviving climate-friendly agricultural techniques, the Penniman sisters are raising awareness of the connections between climate, racial injustice and food systems. In a video, Naima Penniman performs her poem, These Gardens Are Blueprints, which highlights the role of soil and seeds in restoring a stable climate, cultivating community resilience and healing injustices. 

Naima Penniman. Foresight, 2018. Acrylic on wood. Courtesy of the artist. | Anjali Mitra, The Seas Are Rising, So Are We, 2020. “Climate Hope: Transforming Crisis” contest entry. Bay State Award, High School. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs Inc.

Anjali Mitra, a resident of Brookline, Massachusetts, joined Boston Climate Strike because she wanted to make a difference and demonstrate with others who understand the intersectionality of the climate crisis and who are trying to ensure that we live in a world where we all can thrive. Her award-winning work The Seas Are Rising, So Are We, 2020, puts dramatic waves over the Boston skyline and protesters in the street. 

Elisapee Ishulutaq’s (Pangnirtung Inuit) (1925–2018) work, Climate Change, 2012, an oil stick on gesso-covered paper, reminds us that the Arctic is warming at least three times faster than the rest of the planet. The changes in this regional environment are threatening the way of life for Inuit and other Indigenous peoples that have lived as part of the land and ice for millennia. The melting of the Arctic also has global ramifications, because the Earth’s poles act like a refrigerator for the entire planet.

“The majority of Americans are anxious about the climate, yet only a small percentage of us actually talk about it or know how to make a positive impact,” said Winchell. “Climate change is an issue that touches and connects us all, regardless of who we are or where we live. While all of us are affected, we are not all affected equally. Studies show that negative health and energy burdens brought about by climate change disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. Our choices and actions regarding the environment will require imagination and vision, and the steps we take today will have far-reaching ramifications. The goal is for each of us to move beyond our fear and feelings of helplessness and make informed choices to take positive steps forward. Collectively, as a growing community, we can take actions that will help lead to a climate-stable and environmentally-just future for all.”

Helping Us See Trees Anew

Konstantin Dimopoulos: The Blue Trees invites the community to participate in altering the natural environment to bring greater attention to it. Using a team of community volunteers and a biologically-safe water colorant, this community artwork will temporarily transform a selection of trees on PEM’s campus into a surreal environment that boldly highlights the trees living among us. Dimopoulos has presented nearly 30 blue tree installations around the world and PEM’s installation marks his first in the Greater Boston area. 

Photograph of Blue Trees © Dave Brown Photography.

The installation will be realized with the help of Wes Bruce, the artist who brought the popular interactive exhibition Where the Questions Live: An Exploration of Humans in Nature to PEM, together with community volunteers. (Because of the ongoing pandemic, Konstantin Dimopoulos is unable to travel to Salem from his home in Australia). This eye-catching, thought-provoking installation is designed to fade with time and the trees will eventually return to their natural state.

“Since blue trees do not exist in nature, we are compelled to take notice of these otherworldly trees right on our campus, prompting a larger conversation about the role of trees in our local environment and elsewhere on the planet,” said Winchell. “The artist is creatively reminding people that rampant deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.”

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