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Earth to Dorcas: Messy idealist, over-deep-thinker and a doer of too many things

Dorcas is an artist and climate activist. She seeks to encourage faith, inspire action and encourage you to love your neighbors and creation well.

She focuses on using art as a medium for her advocacy in various topics ranging from societal to environmental issues in Singapore and countries around the world.

Tell us about the community initiatives you do.

Hello! I’m Dorcas - in most of the work that I do I use creativity to help solve social and environmental issues. I focus on storytelling for climate justice action through illustration and creative writing. I believe that art makes movement irresistible, which is why I use it to help the wider community understand climate justice issues better, what it means to be human in the face of an existential crisis, and to participate in the climate movement through art. And to do so with grace, kindness and a heart of unconditional love.

Currently, I’m a full time student at NUS Architecture - dealing with a range of intersectional topics such as city-making, the natural environment, politics, anthropology, citizen participation and ultimately, what it means to reimagine and create a utopia for all.

Why did you choose to work on this? What impact do you think it makes?

Honestly I can’t pinpoint a moment where I “chose” to work on this! I think my work has evolved a lot since about 6 years ago in secondary 3 when I decided that I wanted to use my inclination for creativity for good. It has always been my intention that I wanted to lead with unconditional love with the life that I have been given, for other people, for nonhuman lives and for this planet that we live on. It seemed natural to want to use what I had been blessed with to bless others, and right now it just happens to be using storytelling to call for climate action, given the existential and unequal nature of the crisis.

It has always been my wish that my stories can help others to see that taking action in the climate crisis is not just a listicle of things to do - these are actions that stem from the unconditional love that we all inherently have for each other and the world. It's not our place to predict what might or might not happen in the future given the current state of things, but rather to just keep loving each other unconditionally despite the unknown.

I’ve been told that my stories have helped others to see the world with more child-like wonder and excitement for nature, and to also give more grace to themselves and others in this time. I’ve also been told that certain stories have helped them to have a softer heart, to heal from the emotional pain of being in an existential crisis and to have empathy for those whose perspectives we may not yet understand.

Share with us a bit about your experience working on it. (Both the good and the bad!)

Haha the difficulties are many! Where do I start - I think the first is definitely a knowledge gap. I’m a generalist in a lot of things, but lack a deep understanding of specific issues. I’m also just a poly graduate and a freshie in uni so a lot of things are what I’ve read up on my own or from what I’ve learnt from other people! Not necessarily from formal readings or lectures that we’d have access to in formal education. I’m thankful for more of a “big picture” intersectional view on issues but also sometimes wish that I was more equipped with deep on the ground knowledge to support my advocacy as well!

I think another thing is definitely grappling with the age-old questions - activism requires us to look at the deep, hard, philosophical questions in life that we often push to the side because they’re too difficult. There were many times where I had to rethink the way that I sought meaning in the creative work I do. For example, sometimes in my quest to “love unconditionally” I fall into the trap of a saviourism complex - where I make the mistake of thinking I have to be the one to “save” those who are suffering - especially marginalised groups in Singapore or those disproportionately affected by the climate crisis on a global level. I constantly need to remind myself that this is not an ego contest to fight for a green and just future - but rather a community effort that serves to empower those that most need it so that all of our lives can be lived with dignity and with love. Other spicy questions that haunt me from time to time include - “does what I do actually matter?”, the ever-looming “are all of humanity’s dreams cursed?” and the most spectacular of all - “what is the right way to do the right thing?”

I also have a lot of mixed feelings about using social media as well - on one hand I want to establish healthy boundaries with it, and as an introvert and someone that deeply craves the quiet, the temptation to uninstall instagram and go live as a hermit in the mountains is real haha. But I also know that it can be a great tool to share thoughts and ideas and find community as well. I think walking that line of healthy boundaries is quite difficult, and I’m still trying to figure out what works for myself as well.

Lastly is definitely activism & creative burnout. I think it's a joy and privilege that I get to combine those 2 things in my vocation, but they are also quite emotionally, mentally and intellectually demanding. If I’m not absorbing information all the time on these insanely complex humanitarian issues, I’m trying to find creative ways to also communicate them in ways that really reach the heart of people. Sometimes I have the words and not the visuals, and sometimes I have visuals but not the information, so it's really quite a messy process that I honestly love and can be quite exhilarating but can be also quite draining.

But overall my experience has been one that’s deeply fulfilling, adventurous and joyful - I feel like I’ve learnt a lot more from the people I’ve connected with than whatever I have put out. Whether that’s knowledge about intertidal creatures, or warm conversations about this strange, messy world we live in. In this space, I have found a community, and people who have so much love in their hearts that I’m forever in awe of. I have also been so privileged to be able to have people who consistently follow my work and have told me about the impacts my art has had on them - and that to me is really what keeps me going in this fight for climate justice.

What did you learn or discover through this process, and what would your key takeaway be?

Probably about how in any issue that we tackle, we tackle it in an ecosystem of action! Its not about competition, but rather collaboration between each other. I’m always trying to find what my place in the ecosystem of climate action is, and from the very start when I was doing purely digital illustration, I have modified it on the way, because of the push and pull of the dynamics in the ecosystem, to now telling stories through illustration and creative writing. It's really an ongoing evolving process to find where you fit into that ecosystem, but finding community and people you can lean on (and that can lean on you too!) is so important. Even now, I still have a nudging feeling that I haven’t quite hit the sweet spot with my work yet, and am still exploring fictional writing and worldbuilding, and figuring out how I can incorporate more of that into my work.

If you could give a piece of advice to another creative who’d like to work on such personal projects, what would it be?

It takes time to get it right - it really does. Doing both activism and creative work is a lot of internal work - a relearning and unlearning of values and the midst of it all, also finding what your creative style and taste is. That’s tough - that involves looking inside a lot and that takes time to develop. So don’t rush into it thinking that you’d get it right straightaway, because internal work will inevitably take time - so give it time.

Don’t be afraid to bring your unique identity into your advocacy/creative work as well! As a Christian, it's a lot more natural for me to advocate from a place of faith rather than a completely secular stance, and that’s ok. It makes your work a lot more authentic and human, and people are drawn to that honesty as well.

What opportunities do you have at work / your day job to create meaningful/impactful design?

I’m currently a first year student at NUS Architecture with minors in environmental studies and philosophy. I'd say design is more solution-based vs. storytelling which is more advocacy-based, though both can overlap. It allows me to use all of what I've learnt and instead of communicating it like I do through my art, I apply design thinking instead to try to come up with solutions. A lot of people have the misconception that architecture is about making pretty buildings - it's not. Whether its buildings or neighborhoods or cities or countries, the places that we live in are not designed out of nowhere. It involves deep research, listening to stories and an interrogation of values in order to push the boundaries of what it means to create an ideal place for all.

I’ve also had the opportunity to have internships in a multitude of places, such as Shophouse and Co. (a place-making company), Creative Mindset Hub (art therapy) and hold full-time jobs in design firms such as etc. lab (designing for good). Although I now specialise in both storytelling and architecture, exploring the intersections of creativity and social good at all these different places have definitely allowed me to sharpen my ethos on what good design means in this current world.

Do you have any other suggestions on how creatives as a community do more work that inspires change?

Lead with love - I believe that’s the very foundation of our human spirit and is what should drive your creative practice. Should any other advice fall away or be forgotten, choose unconditional love and the rest will fall in place.

Honestly I would also love to be able to connect to other creatives doing this sort of work so we can build a community that supports each other. This type of work is not easy and we definitely need each other to lean on!

Interested to see more of her inspiring work? Check out Dorcas and follow her work on Instagram!


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