Inside the Collection

The Climate Protests of 2019 – Were you there?

A large crowd of people holding banners and placards at Sydney Town Hall who are protesting against inaction on climate change
Protesters during the Climate Change March on 15 March, 2019 outside Sydney Town Hall. Photo: James Gourley/ Getty Images

In March 2019, one of the largest global environmental protests took place, with at least 1.6 million people coming together in over 125 countries to protest inaction on climate change. The Global Climate Strike was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who started an international movement after sitting outside Swedish parliament in August 2018 with a hand-painted banner that read ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (‘School strike for the climate’). Her activism has captured the public’s attention and gives a personal voice to the issues in a way many larger organisations haven’t been able to.

A crowd of people holding placards at Sydney Town Hall protesting against inaction on climate change. Signs held by protesters read 'Polar bear gettin' rare' and 'Nemo? No mo.'
Climate Strike Protest in Sydney, 15 March 2019. Photo: Sam Marshall

In Australia it was estimated that over 100,000 students and supporters protested across the country in capital cities and smaller regional centres like Geelong and Townsville. Momentum is growing to keep the pressure on global leaders to address climate change as students around the world walked out of classrooms again on May 24 for what might be the largest strike yet.

A teenage girl holding a hand-written banner amongst a crowd of people at Sydney Town Hall protesting against inaction on climate change. The banner reads 'We're leaning for a future we don't have'.
Climate Strike Protest in Sydney, 15 March 2019. Photo: Katie Dyer

Children and young people in Australia want to see action on climate change. In 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment released its Fifth Assessment Report which found that from ‘1880 to 2012 the average global temperature increased by 0.85 °C’. And in October 2018 the IPCC issued a special report on the impact of global warming at 1.5°C, resulting in an increased sense of urgency amongst many in the community. The report found that ‘global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050’ to limit global warming to 1.5°C. According to the UN this would require significant changes to our land management, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities within the next decade.

Two environmental protest badges from the MAAS collection
Environmental protest badges, Australia, 1985-1995. MAAS Collection: 2008/104/1. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski, MAAS

On May 6 of this year a landmark UN Intergovernmental report assessed that more than 1 million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction due to the deteriorating conditions in global biodiversity – an environmental crisis primarily caused by humans. The details of these reports are evidence-based and are of growing concern to societies across the globe, Greta’s message along with hundreds of thousands of other school-aged children around the world making their voices heard is simple: ‘Save Our Future’.

A poster from 1980 depicting a woman holding up a placard for an International Women's Day march
International Women’s Day March, designed by Toni Robertson, Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1980. MAAS Collection: 2007/56/48. Photo: Sotha Bourn, MAAS

Australia has a long history of activism and protest which have reflected periods of social, political and environmental change including the Vietnam War, women’s movements, wilderness protection and Indigenous issues. Activism can influence political and legislative changes and often produces visually exciting cultural material that adopts direct language and images to communicate messages and ideas. MAAS curator Anni Turnbull looks at this in relation to objects in the MAAS collection in her recent blog  Peter Drew: artist and activist. Where activism in Australia was once largely local and regional, the introduction of digital networks and social media has supported larger, collective and global protests in recent years. In earlier eras protest was primarily associated with street-based actions, these are now supported by, or sometimes entirely enacted through, online platforms. The nature of street-based actions where protestors can connect and interact with passers-by means protest materials often adopt raw, punchy and high-key colours, images and words to make an impact.

A poster from 1967 advertising a march against conscription for the Vietnam war, with a repeated image of a young soldier
We wont go Vietnam anti-war poster, Draft Resisters Union, Sydney, 1967 or 1972. MAAS collection: 96/331/1. Photo: Peter Cox, MAAS

The Museum has long been interested in the power of people to engage with art and design to make a statement or social impact. From October 2015 to February 2016 the Powerhouse Museum exhibited Disobedient Objects from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition about protest and political activism focused on objects from the past 30 years not made by commercial artists and designers, but by people collectively taking design into their own hands to make a change in the world. Our collection has other recent examples of protest objects like the Pussyhat and the Real Aussie’s say welcome posters. Also represented are wonderful examples of Australian poster collectives like Earthworks and Redback Graphix, which were involved with grassroots and international politics. Their use of humour, slogans and powerful graphics have left an impressive legacy in the art and design of protest.

An installation view of Disobedient Objects exhibition at the Powerhouse museum, with a display of protest placards and banners
Disobedient Objects installation view of protest placards and banners, Powerhouse Museum, 31 October 2015 – 14 February 2016. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski, MAAS

MAAS is committed to collecting material that reflects Australia’s engagement in activism and is looking to collect placards, banners and ephemera from the environmental protests in 2019. If you attended any of these protests and designed and made protest material for the day, MAAS would love to hear from you!

Please send us an image of your placards, banners etc to Curatorial Enquiries: The curators at the Museum will make a selection to consider for the MAAS collection and follow up with everyone who wants to share their objects as a record of these important times.

Written by Keinton Butler, Senior Curator and Katie Dyer, Senior Curator, Contemporary


School climate strike arranged regionally all over the world and locally in Sydney by School Strike for Climate

IPCC Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5 ºC:

IPBES Global Assessment Summary for Policy Makers:

UNICEF A Climate for Change 2019 Young Ambassador Report:

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