Using art to demand clean water: meet our winner!

6 min read
The final 12 works of art in the Art of Change competition

Throughout history, art has been used by communities around the world to memorialise events, comment on social justice or demand political change. From the Bayeaux tapestry to Banksy’s street art, art is a language everyone can understand.

That’s why we decided to launch our Art of Change campaign, using art to make world leaders pay attention to an issue that’s becoming more and more urgent.

1 in 10 people around the world don’t have access to clean water. This is not a new story. But progress is far too slow – especially at a time when a global pandemic means washing your hands with clean water is more important than ever. At current rates of progress, it will be 2060 before everyone in the least developed countries has access to clean water.

So we put a call out to artists around the world to help us find fresh, new ways to demand governments increase their investment in clean water and hygiene as part of the COVID-19 response.

285 artists from 44 countries around the world submitted their work, and our all-star judging panel shortlisted just 12 pieces for the public to choose a winner from. Nearly 27,000 of you voted and now we have a winner!

Meet the winner: Holly Thomas

Holly Thomas's 'Clean Water Saves Lives'
Image: WaterAid/Holly Thomas

Holly, from London, UK, created 'Clean Water Saves Lives'

"I’m thrilled to have won WaterAid’s Art of Change competition. My work centred around the themes of togetherness and unity and the hope we can achieve a world where everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation. Access to these basic facilities are vital in the fight against diseases like COVID-19, yet billions of people continue to live without them. World leaders have the power to change this and I am so happy my artwork is going to be used to encourage governments to act now and increase their investment in water and hygiene.

"Thank you so much to WaterAid, to everyone involved in this opportunity and to all those who voted! It’s been really special to be a part of this with so many talented artists and I really look forward to creating more artwork that will inspire change in the future!"

From being sent into policy-makers, to being shared on social media, Holly’s art is helping to grab the attention of governments around the world and convince them to increase spending in water and hygiene. Here in the UK, her work has been handed into the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, asking him to urgently protect and scale up investment in water and hygiene.

Our 11 other finalists

Carlos Chaverra Perez from Panama City, Panama, created 'We are in this together'

Carlos Chaverra's 'We are in this together'
Image: WaterAid/Carlos Chaverra

"It’s really simple: what I want people to think and feel [when they see my artwork] is togetherness. I want them to think about the problem and how we can all solve it if we work together.

"We have to raise awareness [about the water crisis] and spread the word until our leaders take [interest] in the issue and protect us. Water is everything for us and is an issue that affects us all."

Cecilia Castelli from Varese, Italy, created 'Access to clean water is a human right'

Cecilia Castelli's 'Access to clean water is a human right'
Image: WaterAid/Cecilia Castelli

"[After seeing my artwork] I really hope people will take actions to provide families with clean water and basic hygiene, especially now that handwashing is such a defence against the spread of COVID-19. Life without water cannot exist. So, it’s such a precious substance and having access to it should be a human right.

"I [created] an open padlock that is also a water tap. The woman is washing her hands and has unlocked the padlock herself, to give a sense of empowerment."

Cindy Salim from Jakarta, Indonesia / Newcastle, UK, created 'Together'

Cindy Salim's 'Together'
Image: WaterAid/Cindy Salim

"I am aware [of] the lack of access to clean water around the world. I hope my artwork could bring impact to individual’s life. It’s inspired by ‘togetherness’. I believe as we come together we could [change the future for the better]."

Irina Bogdan from Brussels, Belgium, created 'Precious ≠ Luxury'

Irina Bogdan's precious = luxury
Image: WaterAid/Irina Bogdan

"I wanted to create something beautiful but in a way that would make people think and become aware of how precious [water] is and I immediately thought of jewellery. Water is indeed extremely precious, yet it shouldn’t be a luxury. For any human being."

Irina also created 'Together'

Irina Bogdan's 'Together'
Image: WaterAid/Irina Bogdan

"Some important actions can only be completed together, and the strength coming from that grows exponentially with the number of people involved. Bringing water to those that need it is a collective effort and I would like to be part of it."

Jess Mountfield from London, UK, created 'Turn on the tap'

Jess Mountfield's 'Turn on the tap'
Image: WaterAid/Jess Mountfield

"It has been a really rough year for people all over the globe. We can change that, though, and there are practical things we can do to empower people in communities. One of which is providing clean water, especially during a pandemic. I wanted to bring the positivity of this into my artwork and show that this is an incredible thing that we can do.

"I drew this while sitting with my grandfather who was dying of suspected coronavirus. His whole life was about positivity and kindness."

Katerina Croydon Veleslavov from London, UK, created 'Clean Hands Save Lives'

Katerina Croydon Veleslavov's 'Clean Hands Save Lives'
Image: WaterAid/Katerina Croydon Veleslavov

"I hope that the repeating imagery of hands and taps reinforces the need to wash our hands multiple times a day whilst we continue to battle COVID-19 across the globe!"

Katie Cegoni from Montreal, Canada, created 'United as One'

Katie Cegoni's 'United as One'
Image: WaterAid/Katie Cegoni

"When people see my art I want them to be inspired to take action. To know that no act is too small. Like an ocean, we are all connected as people to unite together to combat COVID-19. Our community now expands past our borders and stretches to all ends of the earth. If we can band together and think of others, we can change the world one day at a time."

Léonie Macquet from Lille, France, created 'Water deity'

Leonie Macquet's 'Water deity'
Image: WaterAid/Leonie Macquet

"My artwork represents a water deity. She feels very sad about inequalities and about the lack of water in health centres. Access to water is of fundamental importance for the well-being of every inhabitant of planet earth.

"I wanted to show the sadness of the situation and convey a sense of urgency. For me, water is vital to all forms of life, which is why this campaign is so important."

Mulenga J Mulenga from Lusaka, Zambia, created 'A puzzle that can be solved'

Mulenga J Mulenga's 'A puzzle that can be solved'
Image: WaterAid/Mulenga J Mulenga

"The water crisis the world is facing is a puzzle that can be solved. It just needs community action.

"Water is life. Everyone has the right to access clean water, especially in this era of [the] COVID-19 pandemic. Women and children are the most vulnerable because in most households [as] they [are the ones who] travel long distances to access clean water. A tap, [or] a borehole can save a life – especially the most vulnerable."

Nikki Miles from London, UK, created 'Human right, not a privilege'

Nikki Miles' 'Human right, not a privilege'
Image: WaterAid/Nikki Miles

"I want the illustration to make people stop and think about their privilege. How would they feel if they didn't have clean water? Can they imagine what it's like for other people who don't have clean water? After they have thought and reflected, hopefully it will inspire them to take action."

Thank you to everyone who voted in Art of Change - your votes are helping to show governments that they must increase their investment in clean water and hygiene as part of their COVID-19 response.