A man buffeted by storm winds clings to a fragile umbrella painted with the map of the earth. Painted by 13-year-old Charlotte Sullivan of Great Britain, it’s one of the prize-winning paintings created in a 17-year-old children’s art competition sponsored by the U.N. Environment Program. Some of those paintings are now on display in the main lobby of the U.N., while an auction of 26 others raised $21,000 for the United Nations Children's Fund, to be used to help children in areas touched by climate-related disasters.
The U.N. brought child artists from several continents to New York to participate in the exhibit and auction. The 52 works were chosen from among 200,000 created for the competition in the last 17 years, said U.N. Environment Program executive director Achim Steiner. “We chose them to give a voice to children's and young people's views about climate change, environmental challenges and how they view their future, but also our responsibility to do something today,” he said.
The chosen paintings are by children from countries including Thailand, China, the Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya, Russia, Greece, Armenia, Ukraine, and Colombia, among others. Some are optimistic, and show the sun and wind as new sources of power. Others portray Arctic animals wilting in the heat, or even the Earth itself, sweating and exhausted. A few suggest human despair at a degraded world.
Nine-year-old Katherine Liu of the United States prescribed change with her painting, an idyllic landscape inside the outline of a lightbulb. “Inside the lightbulb everything is good and what we should do and should use,” she said, “and outside the lightbulb everything is bad and broken down, and it's things we shouldn't use.”
Guy Nindorera, 14, has seen famine caused by environmental degradation in his country, Burundi. His painting, and an accompanying animation by the U.N. show two possible fates for the world, pictured on opposite sides of an ancient tree. “If we continue destroying the environment, we could all die,” Nindorera said. “Right now we are victims of humans' activities, victims of our own activities. So, I think we should stop and take a good action.”
Achim Steiner noted that a recent survey by his agency found that young people and children around the world rate climate change as a major concern, and want governments to act now to halt it. “Paintings are just one means to express that,” he said. “There are many, many different ways. But sometimes the imagery of art goes beyond language barriers and cultural barriers. They speak to a universal population in the world.”