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Climate change advocacy artwork unveiled in Cape Town

Hope is that an intricate embroidered artwork, commissioned by WWF and produced by the world-famous Keiskamma Art Project in the Eastern Cape, will be the voice of rural communities and spread the word about the urgent need for meaningful climate action.

Ahead of the next global climate meeting, COP28, in Dubai next month, an exceptional artwork has been unveiled in Cape Town to highlight the existential threat climate change poses to human life – particularly for rural people.

The enormous embroidered artwork is the handiwork of 43 artists, mainly women, who live in the vicinity of the tiny coastal town of Hamburg close to the mouth of the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape. It has been named Umlibo in reference to the sprawling pumpkin vine – a symbol of the need to unite and spread the word about the climate crisis.

With funding from the government of Flanders, WWF South Africa commissioned the artwork as part of a community-based project in the Hamburg area focusing on alternative livelihoods and marine ecosystems.

Among the themes Umlibo addresses are the impacts of unpredictable weather patterns and extreme weather events, a decline in marine life, anxiety about the future, pollution and the negative impacts on physical and mental wellbeing. These, along with rural livelihoods like fishing, raising livestock and growing basic crops, are brought to life in vivid colour in the work that portrays hardship and hope in equal measure.

This is not the first time that the Keiskamma Art Project and its artists have tackled a topic of global significance. Previous works have included the Keiskamma Altarpiece (2005) and the Keiskamma Guernica (2010), both of which were exhibited internationally and depicted the intergenerational devastation of HIV on communities.

Umlibo will follow a similar advocacy path as it travels to Dubai for COP28 where it will be exhibited in the South African Pavilion with the support of the National Business Initiative at the invitation of South Africa’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy. Upon its return to South Africa, the intention is to auction it off to raise money for further project work.

This year’s COP28 climate meeting in Dubai will see some 70 000 delegates, including heads of state and world leaders, come together to assess progress being made to slow climate change. It coincides with the first Global Stocktake since the Paris agreement in 2016 which requires countries to assess progress and identify challenges.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was warned that the years leading up to 2030 are a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

In its Sixth Assessment Report, the IPCC said that if the international community makes “deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”, these will lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming in the next few decades.

It is this message of hope and encouragement that Umlibo hopes to spread on its advocacy