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"Art is a powerful way to speak about climate change"

December 21, 2018

Nigerian eco-artist Stanley Aneto is on a mission to use his work to engage younger generations in environmental issues.

Eco@africa Stanley Aneto
Image: DW

DW: You work across many different mediums including painting, poetry, photography, music and film. What made you want to explore environmental themes?

Stanley Aneto: As a child I loved being beside the seaside in Nigeria. I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and just observe nature. As young as 12 years old I would pick up a pen and write about the trees, the moon, how leaves look after rainfall. I was obsessed with the sound of thunder. So I always had this connection with nature. Then when I was older I heard about climate change

from watching Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. It brought up a lot of concerns. I had of course noticed climate change in Nigeria.

The seasons were changing; it was warm when it was meant to be cold. I decided to make a difference. I wanted to use my voice to speak to my generation.

DW Eco@africa - Art from Stanley Aneto
Stanley Aneto uses light bulbs to create his images and is mindful of the plastic waste he produces while making his art. Image: DW

You describe yourself as an eco-artist. What is the key message behind your work?

Often people here in Nigeria blame the West for climate change, and if you look at it they have a point. But the truth is we have become a global village, so everyone is responsible. There is always something you can do. For example you can control your impact and you can make a contribution to the environment. Right now we are paying for the irresponsibility of the generation before us, and if we don’t do anything now the generation after us will pay even more. 

Read more: 'We need nature, but nature doesn't need us'

Is there a growing movement of eco-artists?

There is a growing community of eco-artists that are using the power of social media. However the big challenge is that artists often want to address topics that will give them money, because we all have bills to pay. When you talk about a subject like climate change you're not sure anyone is going to give you money to listen. When I started the only subject I sang about was climate change and my artist friends all laughed at me and said you are going to be broke some day. It's true that it's not always sustainable. Now I have to balance this work with more commercial projects, but addressing climate change is still the passion in my art.

DW Eco@africa - Artist Stanley Aneto
Stanley Aneto performing a poem about oil and the environment in one of his films.Image: DW

What are the main environmental issues right now in Nigeria?

There are two major issues. One is power: we don’t have enough clean electricity. Politicians would rather people buy diesel generators which of course increase carbon emissions and are often dangerous. We need more opportunities for clean electricity run for example by hydropower.

The second issue is desertification in the northern part of Nigeria and let me paint a picture of why this is important. Imagine you are a man who lives in this part of Nigeria and you used to have grass for your cattle. Then suddenly all your grass has dried up, so it is natural that you look for new land because you are a businessman and you depend on your cattle to make money. So you encroach on someone else's land and then conflict breaks out. So when desertification forces people to move it means that climate change is also affecting migration, security and conflict.

Read more: Changing attitudes toward waste can transform communities

Do you think that artists can engage younger people in climate issues in ways that politicians can’t?

A lot! Art is the only language you can speak that will get across to the younger generation. Our generation doesn’t listen so much to mainstream news and finds politicians boring, so art is a very powerful medium to talk to them. If you talk to people in a language they understand the results can be amazing. That’s why I started writing poems and songs. People might be dancing, but they're also singing along to the lyrics that say “hey, there is something going on in the environment.”

This interview was conducted by Holly Young. The text has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Art that's green at heart