For This Climate Strike Poster Artist, Art Is a Survival Tool

Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo says her art and activism are inextricably linked.

Activist and artist Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo stands in her Oakland studio.
Activist and artist Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo stands in her Oakland studio. (Image Courtesy of Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo)

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Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo is an artist and activist in Oakland, CA. Through printmaking, painting, and sculpture, she illustrates the complexity of the voices in her community and sparks dialogue among the people who view her art. In advance of the Sept. 20 Global Climate Strike, we asked Branfman-Verissimo to make art inspired by the strike. She spoke with Earthjustice Communications Associate Lisa Pradhan, a friend and collaborator, about her creative process and the role of art in protest.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

I feel like you do a really great job of weaving your activism into your art. Can you tell me more about that relationship?

The first thing that comes to my mind in terms of artists and their relationship to activism throughout history is that art is another language or tool to digest some of these heavy things or big political moments that are around us. Something that drew me to artmaking as a young person is the history of political posters and art that drove movements. Like, say, the Black Panthers: We all know the classic Black Panther, the Panther as the image of that movement. And that was made by Emory Douglas, who’s an artist and activist in Oakland, and this incredible person who made the Black Panther newspaper. All of these images that influenced movements were at the core of how we talk about and remember these important times in our history.

I’ve always just been interested in how images or patterns or specific colors or text connects and holds those movements or those struggles or those fights. And also just that we need ways to survive. And that art feels like a survival tool in many ways and in needing moments of comfort.

When you were creating this poster, what was that process like for you? What ways were you thinking about the climate crisis in your own life?

It often feels like climate change is talked about in this isolated way, where it’s thinking about the environment as the most impacted factor. Often, I feel challenged by folks that are doing climate change work, because I feel like it’s often forgotten that climate change affects so much these marginalized communities that I’m telling these stories about. And within all the other kinds of social justice work that we’re doing, it’s not in this isolated world. It’s very much a part of and needs to be named as this issue that extremely affects these marginalized communities that I sit in and choose to make work about. And so that was at the forefront when I was making the post­er.

The moment I saw the “Take Care of” I knew that it was part of a lineage of other posters you had made before. Can you tell me more about how “Take Care of” was initiated and how this came into the world? It feels, to me, as somebody living in Oakland, to be so iconic.

The Take Care of poster was made the night of the 2016 election. And I think in that moment, even though so many of the communities that are on the take care of list, you know, needed to be taken care of way before, the 2016 election was a moment of like, what the fuck are we going to do? And was originally made just with Sharpie on a t-shirt in my living room with a collaborator of mine. And we just kind of were like, okay, starting tomorrow morning, no matter what, we have to stand up for these folks who are severely targeted. When I was crafting this poster — it’s not a lot of space. I was thinking of the fewest words to get a meaning across.

This list is so much of, like, take care of our friends, family, community. And it’s interesting [with the climate strike poster] to put Earth on similar planes as this. All of these folks are what encompasses Earth for me and encompasses so many communities that are being drastically affected by climate change.

There’s just so much stuff that’s happening that’s so upsetting. I think one thing I’ve always seen in your work is that there’s always hope and there’s always care. Even amidst these feelings of anger and frustration, there’s always love and kindness in there. Where does that come from for you?

I think it goes back to art needing to be this survival tool, and that we must work for these better spaces and environments and a better world. It doesn’t just stop when you see the art, but then I would hope you would go home and feel empowered to do more.

Can you tell me more about what protest means to you?

I feel like this sounds cheesy, but I love protests. What can I say? The whole space of a protest is like this big performance that we’re kind of simultaneously doing. That of course organizers are to be thanked for all of that. And also, there are these ways that the sight of a protest can call in so many folks in our community in a really beautiful way. And how welcoming a protest is: there’s always kids, little kids, all-aged kids marching next to elders, and it’s such an intergenerational space. I mean, we’re lucky in the Bay, lots of those spaces exist, but also, it’s a rare moment that we all get to come together, take over the streets and yell and chant and make protest signs. So many of the things that are just integrated part of our lives, somebody’s marched millions of miles for.

What are your feelings on the Climate Strike?

I am of course honored to be a part of it now in a small way. And the youth are brilliant. I think we need to honor them and need to listen to them and follow what they believe. And we should all get to the streets.

I also really like shining light on what a lot of the youth of color have been saying and what they are saying. I’m just really inspired to be a part of a movement that’s led by so many of those young people of color.

I was looking at details on the SF strike, and there was a list of demands from the youth, and I was like, ‘this is so great and radical.’ I want people to read those and really spend time with them because the youth are demanding really important things.

Based at Headquarters, Lisa is the communications leadership team manager and an arts worker in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo is an artist, activist, educator, curator & storyteller based in Oakland, CA.