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Environmental Activists Focus of Art Project

SHP studio art students create artwork to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference
Mila O’Malley (SHP ’23) blends a palette filled with cerulean blue and ochre tempera paints as she praises the vivid colors of the robe worn by her subject: Ruth Buendía, Peruvian environmental activist. “I chose to paint her because I was inspired by her efforts to protect the fresh waters of indigenous peoples.” Buendía is renowned for galvanizing her community in fighting large-scale hydroelectric dams that would have flooded ancestral lands.

“Pollution has caused harm to her community all the way back to the Peruvian civil war, resulting in long-lasting environmental issues,” said O’Malley.

Her work is part of a project in SHP studio art focused on environmental changemakers in response to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland this week. The class has spent time watching and discussing videos from inside and outside the conference as they prepared for the project. 

“For me, what stands out is how grassroots the climate movement really is,” said Clara Degois Sainz (SHP ’22). “Yes, politicians are running the conference, but it’s the youth climate activists who are pushing for change. And they’re our age, so it’s really impressive to see.”

Students chose subjects out of a roster of recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize, finding one that each related to on a personal level, says SHP art teacher Peggy O’Leary. 

Instead of a traditional canvas, students used cardboard, an intentional move meant for students to “feel less worried, precious, or uptight,” said O’Leary. “With cardboard, you’re released from that. It’s not a beautiful canvas that has to be perfect.”  

“I like the cardboard,” says Redmond Averbuck (SHP ’24). “It creates more texture, and it takes more layers of paint to cover. We’ve also never tried this medium before, so I’m really enjoying painting with pastels and tempera—we get to explore more [with this assignment].” 

He leans close to the painting to focus on the details of his subject: Malawian environmental activist Gloria Majiga-Kamoto. “Large factories managed to get the courts to postpone a ban against single-use plastics, so she, through a series of protests and demonstrations, managed to get the courts to pass the ban. I appreciated that act against a large corporation using small-scale tactics.”

Sacred Heart Schools Atherton

Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton

150 Valparaiso Ave
Atherton, CA 94027
650 322 1866
Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12