Like so many citizens of the world, Monica Rowand spent the weeks following the presidential election feeling panicked about how the Trump administration could roll back years of hard-fought environmental progress. “I really didn’t know what I could do,” she says. But as she watched the Trump cabinet fill with climate change deniers, an image of a protester she saw kept coming back to mind: a woman wearing nothing but body paint that spelled out a simple fact, “Climate change is real.”
The photo, from a protest in November, became a symbol of hope to Rowand. She channeled her frustrations into action, and less than a month later, People, Planet, Paint was born. The project is using body painting to spread awareness about environmental issues. It officially went live on Inauguration Day.
Naked bodies slathered in depictions of swirling seascapes and glowing coals are attention grabbing, to be sure. And we need as many eyes on climate change as we can get. But it’s more than that. “I feel it’s more relatable,” Rowand says. “It’s an actual human that’s delivering the message to you, as opposed to something that’s stagnant on a wall or on a computer screen.”
Rowand spent three years working in communications for the environmental nonprofit Global Green before enrolling in a sustainability-focused MBA program. “It was really hard to get people to listen” as she tried to communicate the threats of global warming, she says. “I would do the check of ‘Wait, would I look at this? Would I read this?’”
The medium of the human form also reminds us that climate change will leave no body untouched. Accordingly, Rowand’s project is all-inclusive. “All shapes welcome, all sizes welcome, all colors welcome, definitely,” she says. “[It’s] just inherent to the art form.”
So far, People, Planet, Paint has held two painting events, one in Boulder, Colorado, and one in Baltimore. Artists and models in the two cities created “Bodies of Change,” which depicts the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and other global environmental issues. Each image is paired with additional information on what’s at stake and concrete actions individuals can take.
Rowand takes inspiration from how quickly people came together to make People, Planet, Paint a reality. Artists, models, and other volunteers answered the call, a local business in Boulder donated space, and photographers pitched in to document the event. “It’s not me on an island. Clearly, other people are willing to step up and take action.”
Going forward, People, Planet, Paint aims to produce two projects a year, focusing on specific issues related to climate change and sustainable development. Next up: the People’s Climate Movement on April 29. Get ready for some skin, Washington, D.C.
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