‘Art of Breathing’ show sheds light on environmental justice through creativity

‘Art of Breathing’ show sheds light on environmental justice through creativity
Duan Kellum of Creative Grounds says art is being used to send messages of struggle and collective change (Photo: PC4EJ). 

SAN BERNARDINO - On May 19 and 20 – to commemorate Asthma Awareness Month and touch on the contentious topic of warehouse growth and urban sprawl – Creative Grounds teamed up with the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice (PC4EJ) and the Sierra Club My Generation campaign to host an evening of spoken word and an afternoon art show.  

The action behind putting on the art-themed events was to allow people directly impacted by climate change and air pollution to use creative expression through art to send messages of struggle and change, explains local artist and school teacher Duan Kellum.

“I think we all have experienced some form of environmental injustice here in the Inland Empire,” said Kellum, who is also co-owner of Creative Grounds. “Everybody here realizes it and they want to do their part in making change.”

This is the second time in several years that Creative Grounds, PC4EJ and Sierra Club My Generation work together to host an art event in the city of San Bernardino. In 2021, the groups decided to work with local artists to paint a mural at the former Project Fighting Chance building on 9th and Union Streets on the city’s westside. Kellum said the weekend’s events are simply a continuation of the important collaboration.

Duan Kellum stands right in front of an art piece – a lung put together by dozens of asthma inhalers (Photo: PC4EJ). 

“This is personal and something near and dear to me,” he said.

San Bernardino and Riverside rank number one and two respectively for worst smog in the United States, according to the American Lung Association, and there are approximately 9,500 warehouses across the two counties.  

Alcira Mendoza, a local artist from San Bernardino, made a sculpture that attempts to reflect the situation of people living next to warehouses and dealing with diesel truck pollution. The sculpture features an “oozing” lung with an Amazon cargo container impaled in the center of it.

Alcira Mendoza's art sculpture – Nos Estan Sofocando (They're Suffocating Us) – touches on Amazon's influence on on our region's economy and air quality (Photo: PC4EJ). 

“You hear about people having asthma and breathing problems. We have smog from the trucks and wildfires,” said Mendoza. “We’re already struggling to breathe and now more is being added to the problem.”

Despite the air quality and health struggles of the community, Mendoza sees art being an important component to help educate and keep people motivated to make change.

“People learn differently. Art can be used in a visual way to hit those people who learn visually."

It was through art that Highland-based artist Adam Aguilar remained connected to what was taking place around the local community. He’s encouraged to see people concerned and committed to discussing and resolving air pollution issues.

“We can make a difference on our own," said Aguilar. "But it takes collective action to make a change.”