Ahead of the C40 World Mayors Summit in Buenos Aires, we asked global creatives to depict how the world could look if local, national, and international leaders were #UnitedInAction to achieve a green and just future.
Here, a group of incredible multimedia artists show us the cities of the future, where climate action, wellbeing and inclusivity are at the heart of communities. Their art challenges us to imagine a future where people and the planet can thrive.
Yay Abe is a multi-disciplinary illustration studio based in Cape Town founded by Russell Abrahams. His work is inspired by local people and cultures, characterised by bold colour, a unique graphic style and playful nature. Abe said: “my work stems from the society in which I live.”
Abe’s art reflects his surroundings, and tells interesting and vibrant stories.
“My illustration answers the question “what is it like to walk down a street in my city/town/home/region post-green recovery?” It speaks to my city living greener and represents freedom of movement for people of colour.”
Her direct experience as a queer Korean-American has largely shaped her career philosophy, serving as inspiration for the social justice advocacy present in her creative work.
They said: “As a queer, marginalised artist, I’ve always sought to create the world I wish to live in through my artwork – one that’s truly equitable, green, and celebrates diversity. That’s why when I started this illustration, I focused on what that means to me: diverse individuals existing in harmony, a community that feels directly connected to nature, and everyday sustainable actions.”
Through their freelance studio, they aim to provide accessible design services for small BIPOC business-owners and partner with organisations working in the equity space as a force for good.
In recent years, Courn has found purpose in using art as a tool for activism, sharing semi-weekly posts navigating intersectional topics through their Instagram account, @courtneyahndesign.
With his solid sketching skills and rich life experience, he draws in a realistic style. View the artwork by Chonggeng Luo in hi-res.
Graffitimundo is an organisation that celebrates urban art and graffiti in Buenos Aires. Made up of a group of friends with backgrounds in art, design, marketing, communication and journalism, Graffitimundo’s goal was to connect people with art and its creators, highlighting the particularities of a unique context in the world.
Mart Aire, an artist with Graffitimundo based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, said the inspiration for this work came from learning about C40’s work on urban nature and the C40 Summit visual identity.
Mart said: “I designed two pieces and decided to recycle wood to build the tripods to support the works. I felt that becoming aware, taking an interest in the event, and seeing how to contribute to it resonated when recycling wood. I also put together the frames, tightened the fabric, trying to use the hands and body, so that the materials did not have to be bought new.
“Thanks to graffiti and muralism, I have been able to explore a lot of the city. These works relate to previous pieces through the concept that nature springs from within us. One of the works has the sun and a bird flying; a new birth and a new beginning are arriving, through awareness of the climate change we are experiencing.”
Njung’e Wanjiru is a Kenyan illustrator, animator, and filmmaker. Through visual communication, he tells stories that revolve around social issues and community development, whilst uplifting voices that often remain unheard. As a young creative and digital native, his work sheds light on African cultures, experiences, and perspectives.
Inspired by his experiences in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, Njung’e’s artwork creates imagery of African urban spaces that are more sustainable, healthy, resilient, and equitable.
Though Njung’e includes small transformational climate actions throughout his work, he did not want to compromise on the cultural markers and everyday realities of the cities he imagined.
When illustrating a utopian city that is ecologically and socially sustainable, Njung’e says “the diverse cultures of spaces such as these often get lost in the ‘big city vibe’.” By empowering the vibrant identities of cities such as Nairobi or Addis Ababa, his plan was to not imagine a perfect future, but a feasible future that strives for urban wellbeing.
Njung’e wanted to acknowledge traditional and indigenous knowledge and practices on climate action, considering that the African continent currently contributes to only 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
With his artworks, Njung’e hopes to challenge people to think differently, and to encourage consciousness, empathy, and collective action.
Tessa Chong has worn many creative hats during her career, including art director, illustrator, and designer. She currently lives and works on Gadigal Country in Australia.
Tessa’s work, titled ‘Positive Loops’, animates everyday interactions. She said: “This piece is about creating a new, more sustainable way of living in our modern cities. It’s about forming new habits, and new connections with our community, to find a new sense of flow and purpose. Cities need to provide access to cleaner modes of travel and local produce, so being green comes easy.”
She loves telling visual stories with charm and irreverence. She is also passionate about many social issues, including representation and the environment.
Cities and Memory
Cities and Memory is one of the world’s largest sound projects, with more than 1,000 artists contributing to the goal of remixing the world, one sound at a time.
Wellbeing Cities is a unique collaboration between C40 and Cities and Memory, which asked artists to reimagine a curated selection of field recordings from 36 countries around the world, to develop brand new compositions on the theme of sustainability, equity and wellbeing in cities.
Access the interactive Cities and Memory sound map to learn more about each sound in this piece.
Cape Town, South Africa
Koleka Putuma is an award-winning theatre practitioner, writer and poet. She is also the Founder and Director of Manyano Media, a multidisciplinary creative company that empowers and produces stories by black queer women.
Her bestselling debut collection of poems, Collective Amnesia, was published in April 2017, and is now in its 12th print run and prescribed for study in South African Universities and Gothenburg University in Sweden.
In April 2021, Manyano Media published Koleka’s sophomore collection of poems, Hullo, Bu-Bye, Koko, and Come In, with forthcoming translations in Dutch, Danish and French.
Her theatre works include UHM, Woza Sarafina, Mbuzeni and No Easter Sunday For Queers. She is a Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative finalist for theatre, a Forbes Africa Under 30 Honoree, recipient of the Imbewu Trust Scribe Playwriting Award, Mbokodo Rising Light award, CASA playwriting award and the 2019 Distell Playwriting Award for her play No Easter Sunday for Queers.
Koleka’s piece, Beyond the Mountain, explores the marriage of the past and future city – one that serves its residents as much as it honours rich heritage and history.
Click below to read the piece:
Three-quarters of the survey
say the future’s not promised, the rest
say, humanity is buried in marsh and swales deep,
and the scales of justice adjust in the wind
but never balance.
Away from symposiums,
away from pollution-blanketed landscapes deadened by the grime of heavy industry,
a love poem
has aspirations to agitate and celebrate.
It weaves itself around the efforts of dreamers and doers.
It has taken trials to
conjure light with energy that can be accessed by all.
Create new paths with plastic bags and used printer cartridge
toner, reconophalt connecting the city to the sea,
promenades along lined greenbelts,
as skateboards and rollerblades pound rhythm into the pavement,
anchored feet with jetties, space for those absent for too long
in the narrative of who gets to be and become in this city,
no sand or sun is too far out of reach.
built on petroglyphs and trade,
in the name of life and death
your shores have known blood.
Your wealth has never been in service of those who need it.
Those who need it most have learned how to fashion beauty from what remains.
The tongue of your ocean continues to feed us
even when we are not deserving.
The future of your neighborhoods,
designed around the dreams of its people.
We have found salvation in surprising places.
Forests curve along the myCiti route,
dilapidated libraries are restored with imagination, to the people.
Urban farms and co-ops atop buildings
harvest enough for rent, school fees,
Local food markets address a broken food system
that has been failing the poor.
We have come to know,
we are not free or forward-thinking
until innovation serves our most basic needs.
We taught ourselves how to turn gutters into gardens.
Filtering rainwater for reuse is nothing new
for our people
have spent lifetimes converting floodplains into bioswales.
Bullet trains pass through the Wilderness as they travel from Bellville to Barrydale, stop in Oudtshoorn on their way from Butterworth back here.
We are safe while we transit.
We are safe while we sleep.
Walking and cycling at all hours,
we wrap the night around us like a second skin. We
are not afraid of who the city becomes after
We remember all the names entombed
in dunes and dead spaces.
A city with as much hope as it has
ghosts, needs sites of memory
We honour manifestos that preserve
heritage and resist cultural erasure.
We are every metre of Cape Town’s
fabric pressed into service.
Poetry courtesy of Koleka Putuma / Manyano Media.