Twin threats to the Marshallese

Youth activists paint pictures of their forgotten history and perilous present

From Reverse The Trend and the Marshallese Educational Initiative

Last summer, Reverse The Trend and Marshallese Educational Initiative showcased a series of paintings by Marshallese youth that reflect the twin existential threats of nuclear testing and climate change as part of the Amnesia Atómica Exhibit in New York City’s Times Square. 

The paintings expose the trauma experienced by youth living in diaspora in the United States who are learning about the ongoing biological, ecological, and cultural consequences of US nuclear testing on their homelands — a history not taught in US schools. 

Joining other youth from affected communities and using art as activism, Marshallese youth are reversing the trend and engaging leaders and their communities to act on these twin threats.

The Amnesia Atómica exposition centered around artist Pedro Reyes’s ZERO NUKES, a 30-foot-tall inflatable sculpture serving as a beacon to bring experts, political leaders, and engaged citizens together to address the nuclear threat. 

Pedro Reyes’s ZERO NUKES, a 30-foot-tall inflatable sculpture in Times Square. (Photo: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

It was commissioned by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which focuses on three main areas—nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies—and equips the public, policymakers, and scientists with the information needed to reduce man-made threats to our existence.

The sculpture was designed to serve as a central platform for a series of public programs and events to spotlight the voices of activists, artists, scientists, and community organizations in the anti-nuclear field, and drive conversations around non-proliferation and disarmament. 

Amnesia Atómica was curated by Pedro Alonzo, who specializes in ambitious artworks in public spaces.

We are also sharing our documentary, “A Journey Home.” The film is based on a community poem written by six Marshallese students — ranging from high school to undergraduate — living in Springdale, Arkansas. It is a reflection on the many meanings of home: as Arkansas, as the Marshall Islands, and as Earth that needs to be protected and cultivated for the next generation.

Commenting on the power of art in highlighting the twin existential threats facing our humanity, Benetick Kabua Maddison, Assistant Director of the MEI and exhibitor, explains:

“These art pieces were created by Marshallese youth who are working with MEI to learn about our nation’s history and the ongoing consequences of our shared nuclear legacy with the United States. I hope these beautiful pieces will encourage people to learn more about our nuclear and climate stories and help us achieve a nuclear-free and livable planet for all.”

The low-lying Marshall Islands face a grave threat from climate crisis-caused sea-level rise while still enduring the toxic legacy of US atomic testing.

Recognizing the significance of participating in Amnesia Atómica, Christian N. Ciobanu and Danielle Samler, two coordinators of Reverse The Trend said, “we are grateful to have the opportunity to support and showcase our collaborative work with the Marshallese Educational Initiative. RTT seeks to amplify the voices of youth from frontline communities and being able to do it through art is very powerful. Art is a vehicle, where the youth can creatively convey their views on critical issues related to international peace and security.” 

We hope to continue our work with connecting and amplifying the voices of young people from affected communities, especially from the Pacific where the U.S., U.K, and France tested their nuclear weapons. The voices of young Pacific Islanders matter. It is high time that we listen to them as we grapple with the legacy of nuclear weapons.

Headline photo of one of the paintings supplied by Reverse The Trend and the Marshallese Educational Initiative.

The views expressed in articles by outside contributors and published on the Beyond Nuclear International website, are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Beyond Nuclear. However, we try to offer a broad variety of viewpoints and perspectives as part of our mission “to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future”.

%d bloggers like this: