After running a watercolour art business as a side hustle, 21-year-old Dorcas Tang decided to put her artistic talents to good use in an area she’s passionate about: climate activism. 

At the end of February last year, Dorcas started her Instagram account, @earthtodorcas, to raise awareness about climate change and sustainability through her whimsical illustrations. 

She has definitely come a long way since then. 

Dorcas has garnered more than 5,500 followers on Instagram and was recently nominated to represent Singapore for the Youth Empowerment for Climate Actions Platform (YECAP)  by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

The YECAP is a community of climate advocates in Asia who collaborate to organise educational workshops for the wider community. Dorcas was nominated to join the programme by her friend who was involved in the UNDP. 

“Me and a friend from Vietnam recently organised two [online workshops] that [were] an overview of the climate crisis, its consequences and the actions we can take moving forward,” she said. 

Dorcas Tang creates whimsical illustrations to address climate issues
Inspired by nature, Dorcas often includes cute animals and vibrant colours in her artwork. Artwork Credit: Dorcas Tang

As a child, all Dorcas needed to occupy herself was a pencil and paper. She recalled spending hours drawing or writing. 

She continued to hone her craft by watching online illustration tutorials, attending design classes in secondary school, and pursuing design as a diploma in polytechnic. 

“As an introvert, creating was a way for people to get to know me and for me to connect to other people without having to say things out loud. It was also a way for me to build my own world to escape [to] whenever the world outside got too much. And that to me was very empowering,” she said. 

Dorcas also acknowledged that her training at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Design and Environment helped her to discover her interest in environmental issues. 

She enjoyed the school projects that focused on community-centric design and wanted to learn from her lecturers’ expertise. “[All my lecturers] came from a wide range of backgrounds—from humanitarian architecture to participatory design to placemaking. I thought this was such a thoughtful take on design and wanted to be part of that environment,” she said.

Dorcas treated every project as an opportunity to learn more about sustainability and societal issues. One of the projects involved her to design an eco-tourism hotel which combined her interest in environmental issues and creativity. 

Dorcas’ artwork is also accompanied by her own infographics and poetry. She hopes that her art pieces connect with her audience emotionally. 

Dorcas Tang hopes that her artwork connects with people emotionally
Instead of bombarding people with data on the climate crisis, Dorcas works on illustrations that help to make difficult topics enjoyable to learn about. Artwork Credit: Dorcas Tang

“When people say that something I’ve created has led them to have a softer heart, more empathy and forgiveness, or fuelled them to act, that’s when I know that my stories have worked,” she said. 

Aside from being featured in news publications and joining panel discussions, running @earthtodorcas has allowed Dorcas to get to know the advocates community. 

She shared that she’s made friends whom she’s constantly learning from and bonding with through organising beach clean-ups, intertidal walks, and creating infographics or packaging designs.

Dorcas was invited to paint a children's playground that promotes nature play
In early November this year, Dorcas was invited by the National Parks Board to paint a children’s playground in East Coast Park that promotes nature play. Photo Credit: Dorcas Tang

While social media activism has helped to spread awareness on a variety of issues, it can also cause the public to become emotionally charged. According to Dorcas, she finds that activism may often have a bad reputation for being overly aggressive or anger-driven. 

Before putting out her art pieces, Dorcas ensures that her work remains objective and she does enough research about the topic. Her artwork provides a safe space to express her views and create positive change without sounding too critical. 

One issue she worked on was the Dover Forest debate earlier this year. It sparked a multitude of opinions on whether the forest should be preserved or used for residential development. 

As Dorcas has fond memories walking by Dover Forest to her secondary school, she began her research to justify that the forest was a home for wildlife and should be protected. 

However, she also acknowledged that the decision by the Ministry of National Development to redevelop did not come lightly. 

Dorcas shares her artwork on the Dover Forest debate and her reasons against the redevelopment
For Dorcas’ post about the Dover Forest debate, she provided nuance by presenting reasons for the redevelopment and her reasons against it.  Artwork Credit: Dorcas Tang

“I take great care in never villainising a corporation, government body or individual because I think that there are layers of stories and information that we don’t know about from the other side that are not our place to judge,” Dorcas said.  

When asked about the ways the youth can get more involved in advocacy, Dorcas said that activism is simply being more ‘active’ in the community. 

“Speaking up about what is important, community-organising, educating, motivating, donating are all valid forms of activism,” she said. 

She advises those who might be afraid to engage in activism that there is no harm in speaking up for what they believe in. The best way to learn is to keep trying if they do not succeed the first time. 

“Advocacy is not about knowing what the outcome or impact of an action is, but doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Proofread By: Rytasha Passion Raj