Annie Leonard’s pick: The Rapper

Allison “AKU-MATU” Warden

Job:Artist, activist, rapper
Reps:Anchorage and Kaktovik, AK

Green cred: For Warden, the climate fight is personal. The native Alaskan traces her roots to Kaktovik, a mostly Inupiaq village that battles oil companies drilling off its Arctic coastline. Despair might seem easy, but not for this multidisciplinary badass: Warden uses a combination of theater, visual art, and hip-hop to mate climate action with cultural identity.

Over her career, she’s written plays, performed as rap artist AKU-MATU, and overseen visual art installations across Alaska. In the doing, she’s earned a spot as a spiritual MC for indigenous rights at climate events worldwide, even performing for thousands at COP21. In 2015, she won the State of Alaska Governor’s Award in the Arts and Humanities — despite the governor’s avowed pro-drilling stance.

“Someone like me, you have to ask, ‘What’s my part?’” she says. “Scientists are good at science, administrative people are good at that part. My background is in theater. So I started addressing these issues through art, and that rolled into actual activism.”

Hear it from the expert: Says Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA: “One of Allison’s most valuable talents is her ability to engage and involve many different audiences across generations and cultures, whether they’re school kids, gallery-goers, or activists in kayaks. From the Anchorage Museum to the “sHellNo!” protests in Seattle to COP21 in Paris, Allison’s voice has been present and powerful as she speaks up against the threats of Arctic drilling and climate change.”

What to expect in 2016: In addition to completing a record, October will see the debut of the art installation “Unipkaaġusiksuġuvik (the place of the future/ancient)” at the Anchorage Museum. The installation recreates an Inupiaq ceremonial house and fills it with traditional artifacts (like a waterproof whaling suit) crafted with hyper-modern materials.

Spirit animal? Polar bear: “I’ve dreamt of being a polar bear throughout my life — I feel like I am a polar bear, not to freak anybody out,” she says. “We Inupiaq have a story that they take off their coats and they are people inside. So I think I was born without a polar bear coat on.”

Watch the throne, Sarah: As both visual artist Allison Warden and rapper AKU-MATU, Twitter remains a powerful tool for mobilizing action. “I’m trying to get more followers than Sarah Palin,” she says. “If I could just beat her on that I’d feel better about life. It’s a pretty good goal.”

Photograph by Brian Adams