USA: Oil Spill Generates Swell in Creative Expression

Finally BP seems to have found a solution to stop the massive oil spill that has wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast since mid April. On Wednesday, August 4, operation “static kill” is reported to have pushed the gushing stream of oil back to its underground source by injecting 2,300 barrels of mud into the blown out well. Efforts to seal the well permanently continue.

The oil spill has left in its path a multi-layered disaster that has affected local communities, ecological stability and the economic future of the Gulf Coast region. The struggles, pain and loss that many people experience has led to a swell in creative expression. Art is a refuge where people can envision a less bitter finale to the tragedy unfolding in their backyards. It is also a means to dialogue about a profound sense of loss no amount of money can ever remediate.

These works are available through different social media websites, and include performance and visual arts. Symbolic communication flows in lieu of words, and themes grasp at the ludicrous, ephemeral, grim, rage-inducing, and on occasion hopeful.

Ephemeral perspectives

On photo-sharing website, Flickr, photographer Lance Cheung shares a photo of an oil saturated feather on a rubber boom at a small bayou in Bartaria Bay, Louisiana where many birds are affected by the spill. It is an abstract representation where minimal details captivate the attention with a strong message.

“Gulf Oil Disaster-Oiled Feather on a Boom” by Lance Cheung, June 2010, CC-BY-NC-ND on Flickr

Ludicrous tunes

Musicians Mos Def, Lenny Kravitz, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Trombone Shorty teamed up to perform and record a song titled “It Ain’t My Fault.” Written by Mos Def and Ben Jaffe, who is the tuba player for Preservation Hall, the song is a remake of a standard New Orleans tune with new lyrics reflecting the recent disaster. Funds generated from sales of the single (99 cents per download) and benefit concerts are directed towards recovery efforts organized by the Gulf Relief Foundation. The song has become a hit on the internet.

Citizen media producer 2 Cent uploaded footage of a benefit concert on Youtube.


Mos Def sings “It Ain't My Fault” at The Gulf Aid fundraiser in New Orleans on May 15, 2010. Over $300,000 have been raised through the Gulf Aid Foundation. The money is earmarked to provide relief to affected fishing communities as well as restore and conserve coastal wetlands.

Blogger Hip Hop Law writes about how the song reflects the political posturing where those responsible for the disaster resorted to shameless finger-pointing in order to minimize the toll of liability.

This watercolor painted by Olivia Bouler appears on her Facebook page, Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations

Hopeful watercolors

Olivia Bouler, an 11-year-old painter from the state of New York created a stir with her art project to help the Audubon Society. Online, she sells water color paintings of birds to help the organization raise funds for Gulf Coast wildlife relief efforts. She has so far helped raise close to $200,000. Her work can be seen on the Facebook page Save the Gulf: Olivia’s Bird Illustrations. Her artistic campaign also caught the attention of America Online, a major internet and email service provider, who gave the Audubon Society a $25,000 gift in her name and added her to their roster of featured artists. She speaks about her experience in a video posted on Youtube by the Audubon Society.

Grim imagery

A self-described eclectic, piwacket33 posted a video montage on Youtube depicting the impact of the oil spill disaster on wildlife. Titled “Black Tears: The Saddest Video in the World – BP Killed the Planet” the collage of images focus on death and cruelty to animals resulting from BP’s incompetence.

Pickwack33 organized a video montage composed of photography depicting the impact of the BP Oil Spill on Gulf Coast wildlife.

Demonstrators at a BP gas station in Manhattan on May28, 2010 by Michael Dolan CC-BY on Flickr

Theater of rage

Another creative form of protest against the oil spill disaster has been street theater. Among the first to organize a protest were a group of activists in Manhattan who protested in front of a BP Gas Station on the corner of Lafayette and Houston Streets. Some wore white clothing and poured black paint over themselves – symbolizing gushing oil. Information about the demonstration was spread through the Facebook page Protest BP. On Flickr, Michael Dolan shares photos he snapped as he was passing by. Video footage from the event was posted online by Youtube user Leeifac. Activists can be heard chanting: “BP Your Heart is Black, You Can Have Your Oil Back.”

The sentiment against BP has fueled multiple protests across the United States and the world. On Indymedia London, Tim Dalinian Jones published photos from one protest at a BP gas station in Shepard's Bush on April 10, Party at the Pumps, where he says people danced to live and recorded music for over an hour.

Party at the Pump Demonstrators in Shepard

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