In Its Fifth Year, the Enviro-Art Gallery Goes Global (and Virtual)

“Empire of Ashes” by Roger Peet. Portland, Oregon, USA.

Founded in 2017 by senior Cameron Oglesby, the Enviro-Art Gallery is an annual showcase of student and professional artwork “designed to highlight the beauty and struggles of nature.”

Its mission is to present art as a call to action, working to connect people to places, ecosystems, and international experiences of nature through visual dialogues.

Although COVID-19 forced the gallery to move online, this year’s showcase boasts a significant expansion—over 600 artworks from around the world are featured on a virtual gallery space, which is accessible for the entirety of April; fifteen environmental artists and experts will present virtual talks from April 5 to 10; and a documentary produced by the Enviro-Art Gallery team will premiere early this summer.

Oglesby, who is also the gallery’s lead curator, and sophomore Isabel Wood, leading the gallery’s documentary team and social media, share how this project has evolved in the following interview for Duke Arts (edited and condensed for clarity).

explore the showcase

Cameron, you conceptualized the Enviro-Art Gallery in 2017, as a senior in high school. What compelled you to create it, and how has it grown in the years since?

Cameron Oglesby: I was in a leadership program with a capstone requirement, and I wanted to create a project that effectively communicated environmental issues, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like.

I always noticed that when I carried my artwork around with me, my peers would get so excited about it. They asked really hard questions about it: “What inspired this piece? Why did you create this? What does this mean?” That motivated me to create the Enviro-Art Gallery—a showcase centering environmental narratives and issues via visual communication methods.

The success of the first gallery convinced me to bring it to Duke in 2018. From that point forward, I tried to ingrain the Enviro-Art Gallery into not only the on-campus arts community, but the growing STEAM community as well.

”Blood Sun, Body Leaves“ by Daisy Crane. Los Angeles, California, USA.

“Art has always been my way of responding to the world. I am in awe of the biodiversity and resilience of our planet, but am I also deeply worried about the anthropogenic threats the Earth faces. In my art, I try to capture the beauty of the varied forms of life on our planet in hopes of drawing attention to what we are so rapidly losing. I am so excited that the Enviro-Art gallery is creating space for environmental artists across the globe to come together this year and celebrate the Earth.” —Kendall Jeffreys, senior and Enviro-Art Gallery’s lead curator

“Red Eyed Tree Frog” by Kendall Jefferys ’21. Durham, NC, USA.

CO: In 2020, the Enviro-Art Gallery was supposed to take place at Bond University, located in Gold Coast, Australia, where I was studying abroad. Although the in-person gallery had to be canceled because of COVID-19, we were still able to build excitement about a showcase that originated halfway across the world. So, when we decided to make this year’s Enviro-Art Gallery virtual, we thought, “Why not make it global as well?”

If you compare environmental artwork from the United States to artwork from Australia, they depict different issues and different experiences. In Australia, for example, the work focuses heavily on bush fires, drought, and flooding. In the U.S., it’s completely different—and yet, it’s also the same. The artwork still speaks for itself and asks the same questions no matter where you’re from. I think that’s the beauty of art as a universal language.

Isabel Wood: On one hand, it’s unfortunate that we have to conduct everything over Zoom. But on the other, moving online opens up many new opportunities; we’re able to present the gallery and our speaker sessions to a global audience, in addition to receiving artwork from around the world.

“猫头鹰,月亮上的风和心脏药 (Owl, wind on the moon and heart medicine)” by 温秋雯. Guangzhou, China.
“Portraits of North Park: Oxalis” by Sofia V. Gonzalez. San Diego, California, USA.

This year’s showcase will feature a documentary produced by the Enviro-Art Gallery team. Can you tell me more about what it will entail?

IW: We’re currently finalizing a documentary about the progress and process of the Enviro-Art Gallery, which will be available early this summer. The documentary will tell the story of the gallery’s origins and its growth, as well as share the testimonials of various environmental artists and experts.

Statistics show that so many people still don’t understand what’s going on with environmental degradation, or they know and think it’s unimportant. We’re at a point where the knowledge gap about environmental issues can no longer exist—we must learn how to bridge that gap. So, that’s what the documentary will focus on.

Do you get the sense that the gallery has struck a chord with the Duke student body?

CO: Since it began, the Enviro-Art Gallery has not drawn in artists and environmentalists exclusively, but rather a wide range of people who are not necessarily thinking critically about either of these topics. In this way, I think that the environmental community sees the gallery as an opportunity to expand their reach to students outside their sphere, in the same way that the arts community sees it an opportunity to engage with those who don’t typically move in artistic spaces.

I’ve definitely seen a community grow around it at Duke—those who are passionate enough to inquire about it, to engage with it, or to even recreate it in different places. I’m hopeful that that response I’ve gotten means that my peers will keep the Enviro-Art Gallery going long after I’ve graduated.

“On the Nature of Fire” by Bonnie Peterson. Houghton, Michigan, USA.

“As someone who loves to look at the environment through a scientific lens, the Enviro-Art Gallery has shown me that there are so many different ways that people can engage with nature, and that we need all of them. I am so excited that the gallery can be international this year, and working with students at Duke Kunshan University has been a really great experience. It shows that, although our ecosystems and environmental problems may be different around the world, every person has a connection to nature.” —Emily Nagamoto, first-year and Enviro-Art Gallery’s Duke/Duke Kunshan liaison

What do art and environmentalism mean to you? How do they serve and uplift each other?

IW: I’ve always cared deeply about the environment. I was raised in South Florida, where I was surrounded by water on three sides and right next to the Everglades. I grew alongside my environment, and I really latched onto it. With every passing day, especially now that it’s spring, I’m reminded not only of nature’s beauty, but how it is vital to everything we do. Artistic perspectives of the environment encourage us, no matter who we are, to reconnect with our natural surroundings. To me, that’s the first step toward environmental justice.

“Artistic perspectives of the environment encourage us, no matter who we are, to reconnect with our natural surroundings. To me, that’s the first step toward environmental justice.”

CO: For me, art has always been an avenue for creating moments and movements in others, to bring them back to their inherent sense of love, respect, and care for our environment. What does this work mean to you, and how is it going to direct you forward as an individual with regard to your relationship with the environment? I have found in my time at Duke that the real way to make change happen is to engage people, and I think art does a really good job of communicating in a way that makes you think and reminisce and, hopefully, evaluate yourself.

Nina Wilder is a 2020 Duke English graduate from Raleigh, N.C. and this year’s arts administration fellow at Duke Arts. As a student, Nina was the editor of The Chronicle’s arts & culture section, Recess.

“The Great Wave” by Christina Boxberger. Durham, North Carolina, USA.

Celebrate Eco-Arts Month

The 2021 Enviro-Art Gallery is one of many events taking place during April that calls attention to environmental issues through the arts. Click the links below to learn more about the eco-arts happenings across Duke’s campus and beyond in the coming weeks:

Waste Audit

Mon, April 5

Are you interested in expanding composting in residential dorms or learning more about Duke’s waste protocols? Join Duke Student Government and Duke’s Environmental Alliance in this spring’s Waste Audit, to help push for composting in residence halls and for better waste education on campus.

EarthFest 2021

Fri, April 9 to Sun, April 11

Join Duke’s Environmental Alliance to engage with Duke professors, students, experts, and activists on the central questions defining the environmental movement today. In exploring this year’s theme—”Who Can Be an Environmentalist?”—they aim to tackle these questions from a range of perspectives and fields.

Water Towns Environmental Film & Arts Festival

Wed, April 14 to Thu, April 22

Duke Kunshan’s Water Towns EFAF is an international event that features recent and historical pieces of documentary film and artistic production under a selected environmental theme. The festival urges us to reflect on our collective responsibility to protect the environment, raise awareness and understanding of the most pressing environmental challenges, and commit to action.

Trashion Show

Sat, April 17

The Enviro-Art Gallery and Duke Kunshan’s Water Towns Environmental Film & Arts Festival are teaming up to present a “trashion show.” A showcase of fashion pieces made from objects perceived as trash—anything from old clothing to actual trash—the 2021 Trashion Show aims to bring attention to the importance of sustainability. The 5 best entries will win an illustrated upcycling book by upcycling artist Maria Ramos.