It is no secret that unethical consumption has left lasting impacts on the Earth. Rapidly changing consumer trends have caused landfills to overflow and diminished natural habitat worldwide. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created to address issues such as these just over five years ago, as conversations regarding the wellness of the Earth have become more popularized and urgent.

However, before SDGs and environmental policy, artists have been fighting to address these issues through their work for years. Especially the late Tetsumi Kudo.

Cultivation. Image courtesy of Frieze.

Born in 1935, Kudo used a variety of natural and manmade materials in his artistic career that spanned over four decades to address overconsumption and environmental decay caused by humans. Using the grotesque aspects of human nature, coupled with the rapid increase of popularization of technology, Kudo emphasized the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Responsible Consumption and Production and Climate Action that exist to confront these issues, before many dared to even acknowledge them as such.

Kudo’s interest in documenting the human experience and how it intersects with the decomposition of the Earth began in the mid ’50s when he studied art at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts.

During this time, the American Dream had spread worldwide and consumerism quickly became the forefront of not only shopping habits, but also political ideologies. Disturbed by how this mindset had not only changed Kudo’s peers but the world of art, Kudo began creating pieces using everyday household items such as hairbrushes, gloves and receipts to confront the epidemic of unethical shopping.

Votre Portrait, (1966). Image courtesy of Walker.

In the piece,“Votre Portrait,” (1966) Kudo uses recyclable material to show how shopping has become ingrained within humanity. Cages and claustrophobic imagery continue to appear throughout his work, as he is calling attention to how limiting life can be when one buys into the myths of consumerism and shopper’s begin to place themselves into boxes.

Coelacanth (1970-1974). Image courtesy of Galerie Christophe Gaillard.

Later on in his career, Kudo begins to become more blatant with his pieces, using phallic imagery to represent the grotesqueness of the human experience in contrast to the beauty of nature.

Kudo likes to reduce landscapes into trapped scenes (such as oceans into fish tanks and the fields into domes) to represent how easily humanity has turned the Earth into a constant source to feed their consumeristic habits. Coelacanth, 1970-1974 was a jarring and well known piece by Kudo, as he used many manmade materials to illustrate man’s touch on nature.

As Kudo’s artistic career evolved, so did the habits of his muse - wealthy shoppers. Nearing the end of his work, in the 80’s, Kudo called attention to the ways in which technological advancement had begun changing people’s lives and its impact on the environment.

Kudo often questioned if the development of the items that polluted the earth was truly a sign of success. He once stated, “No matter how, it is important to think about the relationship of polluted nature to the proliferation of electronics. [It is] the decomposition of humanity.”

La survivance de l’Avant-Garde (1985). Image courtesy of Hauser Wirth.

This piece, like many others he created during this time, protected human’s dire attachment to the very things hurting their sustaining environment. This piece marries the biological and the technological in Kudo’s signature graphic style.

Despite Kudo passing away at only 55 in 1990, Kudo’s work still continues to address many issues that the UN SDG works to fight today. Environmentalism was not a key issue addressed socially throughout his career, however Kudo’s transcendent and glaring pieces seem to have predicted the continued cycle of overconsumption that we face today. Kudo’s work, currently showcased all over the world, is a brightly coloured reminder to continue to do our part to preserve this Earth.

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