The art of protest: Artisan Emma channelling creative energy to protect BC’s coast from Kinder Morgan

Edited by Drew Penner with photos courtesy of Emma Wetherill

Right now, a lot of creative energy, not to mention activist strategizing, has gone into fighting the Kinder Morgan expansion project that would increase the amount oil products the company can send along its Trans Mountain pipeline. We noticed Lower Mainland art fair-hopper and visual creator Emma Wetherill livestreaming from a recent protest and we wanted to find out more about how the Maple Ridge-raised 23-year-old’s work has been influenced by the issue. The multi-disciplinarian painter, muralist and textile artist was excited to share with ThinkPol readers the reasons behind why she’s put in the effort to preach conservationism and oppose pipelines under the name of Artisan Emma. Here’s a lightly edited version of the artist statement she bequeathed us, along with some stunning imagery to brighten your day…

I discovered that art can be a visual voice.

We are blessed to be living in a visual age of handheld mini computers (i.e. cell phones). With applications like Facebook and Instagram, we are able, and encouraged, to spread our visions online for others to view, save and share. This is a perfect scenario for artists such as myself, since we can funnel useful info through the easily accessible social media platforms.

My interest in conservation and strong regard for the Earth, as well as water and Indigenous rights, began with an art project run through the watershed at Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge. It was just down the road from my elementary school, and each child was to paint their own cedar cut-out salmon after visiting the hatcheries and being informed on the not-so-coexistive relations between salmon and humans. That’s where I learned what our pollution was doing to a once thriving and pristine ecosystem. Thanks to the human urge for monetary success, it was under serious threat. There I cut my first ever snippet of Ecosystem and Economy.

Flash forward to last year, the time of serious Water Protector action in the US [against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline]. The American government handled things appallingly: the military was brought in, and rubber bullets were fired at innocent civilians holding space. They were standing in solidarity to protect their sacred waters. Their sacred land. Freezing water cannons blasted these people in the dead of winter.

America did not listen. And in this helpless time I watched closely, feeling the pain of defeat – but also the urge to help out in any way I could. Without the money to physically migrate to North Dakota and stand with these people, I took to my brush and canvas and began painting nonstop. I painted an image of thriving waters and harmony between technology and ecology, as a tribute to the Water Protectors.

For two straight months I stood in front of this canvas and worked with healing intentions. I took photos as the painting found its form, and shared these along with updates about the situation south of the border. I spread this voice to anyone who came into contact with me physically, as well as online. I lost some followers by doing this, but built an incredible support network. I also gained an even greater understanding of the control that takes place on social media.

Often, I would post about Standing Rock and the brutality shown towards those working around the clock to protect Earth against Kinder Morgan and the Dakota Access Pipeline. My algorithms would plummet from a 1,000 – 2,000 person average reach (for regular content) to just 100 – 150 people when posting about the pipelines in a negative light. This blew my mind. There are people out there spending a lot of money to make sure you remain oblivious to the truth.

After my painting ‘Eternal Mother’ was released, I began to pick up speed. I fundraised money through print sales, but I was unsure of where the money would end up. In the end I decided to donate the funds to the Sidney B.C.-based conservation group, Raincoast Conservation Foundation. I wanted to “go local” because I knew that B.C. was facing a similar fate to North Dakota. Kinder Morgan was planning to shove another pipeline closer to home, on Burnaby Mountain, into the Burrard inlet.

While you may be aware, either fully or partially, in the truth of the pipeline matter, it is important to understand that Earth MUST come first. While we often hear our leaders preach of jobs gained and a thriving economy via this bitumen export pipeline, we must ask ourselves: What about the next generation? What about our children? Do you not wish for your child to grow up in harmony with the land? Though you may leave them with a fortune grown from the oil industry, they may never know how flourishing the ecosystem in BC once was. Canada is dying, and we must act now.

B.C. is home to some of the cleanest and most abundant water sources in the world. While other countries are facing drought or polluted waters, we are surrounded by a world supply of fresh water resources. Knowing this, why would we taint it with a dirty and poisonous oil product such as bitumen? It is no longer a matter of if there will be a spill, but when.

Browsing through my art, you’ll probably notice a pattern of orca imagery. If this pipeline goes through, we can say goodbye to our beloved Southern Resident Killer Whales. With only 23 fertile females known to be left, this species is on the brink of extinction. Couple low numbers with a 700% increase in heavy vessel tanker traffic that comes with the building of this pipeline and it’s clear the whales would be handed their fatality. This is because the killer whale’s form of hunting and communication relies on echolocation. As underwater noise pollution increases, the whale’s tactics become obsolete, destroying any chance of survival. Baby whale calves are often disoriented and lose their pod. Unable to hear the calls of their mothers, they starve.

Today I’m actively involved in a more physical sense. I attend every rally I possibly can, and stand with those risking arrest outside the gates of Kinder Morgan up on Burnaby Mountain. I’ve been making ‘Protect the Inlet’ patches from scratch and recycled materials, handing them out at every gathering. I recently teamed up with Samuel Cotton Photography and have been painting images of whales on his photos of vast Pacific Northwest night skies and coastal landscapes. These artworks are used to raise awareness and part of the proceeds are donated to Vancouver’s Coast Protectors organization.

I will never stop protecting the Earth. Because without Earth, we are without ecosystem. And there is no such thing as economy – let alone human race – without ecosystem. As we continue towards this compassionless oil-fueled and money-hungry fate, we propel humanity closer towards expiration.

So please, listen to Earth’s cries for help. She cries for you, her children.

Thank you for listening, I hope these words have resonated and can be carried out to those who surround you.


Facebook: Artisan Emma

Instagram: @artisanemma