• 08.11.11

Not Just For Dorm Rooms: Batik Hangings Show Eco Catastrophes

Mary Edna Fraser takes images of environmental degradation and turns it into strangely tranquil batik designs.

Engagement is always going to be a problem with a slow-motion catastrophe like climate change. Artist and naturalist Mary Edna Fraser has taken an intriguing approach to the “make them care” problem regarding environmental degradation — she turns it into gorgeous art. Fraser takes satellite or aerial photographs of threatened landscapes and then re-renders the images in batik, a textile-based art form that flattens the photographs into near-abstract visual patterns that still carry an echo of ecological outrage.


“The subject of climate change is difficult to grasp. Beautiful images of parts of our Earth that are affected are a way to bring the reader into this harsh reality,” Fraser tells Co.Design. “Making a hurricane look beautiful does not sanitize the environmental catastrophe, it only shows how scary and huge the storm is from the perspective of a satellite before hitting shore.”

Each of Fraser’s climate-change batiks takes about a month to produce, from the research phase (“It must convey the science as well as be intriguing on an artistic level,” she says) to the design process (she traces pencil outlines onto silk using the photo as a reference), to the final layering on of wax and dye. Her latest pieces, shown in this slideshow, appear as illustrations in a new book co-authored by her scientific collaborator, Dr. Orrin Pilkey, called Global Climate Change: A Primer. “Dr. Pilkey and I have been working together for over two decades and I consider him my boss,” she says. “My partnership with the authors is because I care about the science and am an aerial landscape artist with similar concerns.”

[All images © Mary Edna Fraser]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.