MAS.S64: Poetic Justice for Climate Crisis

Ekene Ijeoma, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Tuesdays, 1–4 pm

Open to undergraduates and graduates. Application here. Cross-registration for non-MIT here. Applicants will be notified by September 14 before 1 pm. Candidates attending in person and for credit will be prioritized. 1st class on Tuesday, September 14th in Room E15-359.

From Black communities in Flint, Michigan, whose drinking water remains contaminated, to Indigenous communities in the Amazon whose land continues to being deforested, to Aboriginal communities in Australia whose water and swamplands are being despoiled, the climate crisis disproportionately affects the quality and length of life of the global BIPOC community. In this course, we’ll discuss the work of BIPOC artists who view the climate crisis as not only an environmental problem, but as also a matter of racial and social injustice. We’ll discuss how the global climate crisis affects the daily lives of global BIPOC communities, exploring how their various identities and histories are entangled within this crisis and how they’ve navigated it through creativity. We will insist on understanding them as exemplars rather than victims, following their cues as we seek innovative and creative responses that thoughtfully address the climate crisis. And we’ll create interdisciplinary creative proposals—employing prompts, challenges, collaborations—that explore what poetic justice—new forms of justice through art —could look and feel like for BIPOC communities in the climate crisis.

The course is organized around the classical four elements that order humans’ relationship to the environment and non-humans in it: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. As found in the Medicine Wheel across various Indigenous communities in the Americas, these elements are an invitation to draw on wisdom of the past as we make sense of our present and future. For each element, we’ll study and discuss materials including artworks, exhibitions, essays, poems, and data reports – storytelling in its myriad of forms. Featured artists may include Pope L, Maya Lin, Allison Janae Hamilton, Alan Michelson, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Himali Singh Soin, Tavares Strachan, and Kandis Williams.

Students will respond to the climate crisis through words, images, sounds, and objects that are in conversation with the four elements and their ill-effects on marginalized and underserved communities. The four elements invite a conversation with ancestors who were stewards of the environment and their descendants. Students will combine research with their creative intuitions and imaginations to develop presentations that invite critical discussions and fruitful reflections on climate crises. Projects will range from essays to art and design proposals. The course will also include guest lectures and workshops from BIPOC artists as researchers and scientists. 


  • Employing art to grapple with what feels like a self-defeating subject, the climate crisis, and thereby understanding climate change in a fresh way.
  • Environmental storytelling that sustains the interest of a specialized and general-interest audiences,
  • Take on the climate crisis by engaging with the rich variety of BIPOC storytellers, scholars, activists, archivists who confront and creatively tackle the climate crisis.
  • Create a narrative of the climate crisis that focuses on its global dimensions with interventions from BIPOC communities that offer creative and compelling narratives of our conditions and futures.
  • Demonstrate the importance of artistic and humanistic approaches that are in conversation with scientific analysis.
  • Learn how to participate in environmental storytelling with rigor and creativity.
  • Use different forms of writing--essay, epistolary, memoir, meditation, criticism--to reach a broad audience on climate change.
  • Draw on the wisdom and power of Indigenous practices to create new-yet-old models of engagement with a wide audience about climate change.
  • Introduce participants to the intersecting intellectual and cultural and artistic traditions of global BIPOC communities.
  • Learn artistic practices--collaboration, installation, prototyping, exploration--that are crucial to developing an artistic response to the climate crisis.

For questions, please contact Nerissa Cooney:


Poetic Justice group

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