In 2018, National Geographic International launched a number of global campaigns to create awareness about the growing threat of global plastic pollution, especially concerning the 9 million tons of plastic trash being dumped into the world’s oceans every year.
One of these campaigns was a project titled Planet Or Plastic. One artist from each of the twelve most plastic polluted countries in the world was selected by National Geographic Abu Dhabi to drive awareness of our planet’s plastic pollution crisis.
Each artist was commissioned to create artwork for one month of NatGeo’s 2019 calendar. Each illustration was intended to be unique and to reflect the artist’s cultural background, while drawing attention to the global plastic trash issue.
I was invited to represent Nigeria in this project (Nigeria being the 9th worst plastic polluter in the world). I was asked to create a plastic-pollution themed artwork for the 9th month of the calendar (September) and given creative freedom to choose the style and concept with which to express the theme.
I already realized that the majority of selected artists were going to focus on trash at the beach and in the oceans. I wanted to do something unique. Something different. My concept had to be easily understandable to the world, but it had to have a layer of meaning and relevance that Nigerians in particular would identify with, because whatever I came up with would effectively be representing Nigeria and Nigerian culture to the rest of the world.
After a lot of deliberation I decided upon the idea of a 5th Mainland Bridge. One of Africa’s most famous landmarks is the 3rd Mainland Bridge in Lagos, which is said to be the longest bridge on the continent.
3rd Mainland Bridge
I realized that the title “5th Mainland Bridge” would trigger the curiosity of Nigerians and drive them to find out more about the art piece. But in my concept, 5th Mainland Bridge isn’t an actual bridge. It’s a huge plastic rubbish dump that has grown so out of control that it floats on the water and bridges parts of the city and traffic can drive over it. It has become a landmark in its own right.
I also decided to include significant features which Lagosians and Nigerians would recognize as part of their daily lives – traffic jams, danfo buses with conductors performing acrobatics on them, street hustlers and hawkers, etc. I wanted the work to draw attention to plastic pollution, and to also have layers of aesthetic and social and cultural relevance beyond that. In particular I wanted to represent Nigerians’ unique attitude of apathy towards environmental issues. We generally act like we can’t do anything about them and they don’t really matter anyway.
Lagos, Nigeria: danfo bus and conductor, street hawkers and traffic jams
Here are work-in-progress images, from initial sketch (pen on paper) to final stages in Photoshop. My process was supervised by Luis Gatti (Associate Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai, the agency in charge of the project), who made some very helpful suggestions.
Initial paper sketch
Scanned sketch – filling in base forms and colours in Photoshop
Working out more of the base forms and composition
Ready for finishing touches, shading and more details
Digital painting in Adobe Photoshop
NatGeo Planet Or Plastic 2019 calendar download: http://natgeotv.com/me/national-geographic-abu-dhabi-2019-calendar/about