Bow Seat Partners with Sea Walls: Artists For Oceans MauiMarch 4, 2019
By Alyssa Irizarry, Executive Director
Aloha from… Boston! I may be back on the icy mainland—paint scrubbed from my fingernails and jet lag conquered—but I’m still celebrating Bow Seat’s recent collaboration with PangeaSeed Foundation in Maui, Hawaii.
As the Youth Engagement Partner for PangeaSeed’s latest Sea Walls: Artists For Oceans public art festival, Bow Seat headed to the Aloha State to teach Maui teens how to give our ocean a voice through art and activism (ARTivism).
You may remember our previous Sea Walls: Artists For Oceans collaboration back in 2016. We joined 20 other artists from around the world in activating Napier, New Zealand—painting large-scale public murals that address threats to our ocean ecosystems, such as plastic pollution, overfishing, and climate change. Since 2014, PangeaSeed has worked with artists, communities, and global partners to create more than 350 murals in over 15 countries! We were thrilled to join them again, and to contribute our experience working with students in creative conservation
The Maui activation theme—”Mauka (mountains) to Makai (sea)”—focused on the connection between our choices and actions on land and the health of marine habitats and wildlife. 20 artists, including 10 Hawaiian and 10 international, settled in Wailuku, a town nestled in the (surprisingly rainy) leeward side of the West Maui Mountains.
The week opened with an incredibly moving ceremony by Kahu Kekai and Kahu Marcelo, who offered their blessings to us artists to share our visions with the island. This is for the keiki (children), they reminded us. Our kuleana (responsibility) was to create beautiful spaces that tell stories of care and respect for the ocean; stories that invite the keiki of Wailuku to share their gifts and visions with the community and the world. With hearts and paint cans full, we began!
Bow Seat’s host (and canvas) for the week was H.P. Baldwin High School. Our mural design was based on the painting “Plastic Whale” by teen artist Dafne Murillo, the first art scholarship winner of Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest back in 2014.
Humpback whales can be found in our oceans around the world, and each winter, an estimated 12,000 of them visit the waters of Maui Nui to breed and nurse their young. We celebrate and cherish these majestic creatures, but they are increasingly being threatened by plastic waste in the ocean, whether through direct ingestion or entanglement.
Dafne’s painting was re-imagined through a participatory mural project at the center of Baldwin’s campus.
What was initially a spectacle—”Aunty, what’chu painting there?”—became a curiosity, an opportunity, a collaboration. Throughout the week, in between classes and after school, Baldwin students were invited to become muralists themselves. Some were prompted by my sign (“Help me paint! Yes, you!”); some were dared by friends; some needed gentle encouragement. None had painted a mural before.
Slowly the whale’s form took shape as they painted pieces of plastic they use on a daily basis—EarPods, straws, soda bottles—or items they commonly find on the beach—slippers, rope and fishing line, and unidentifiable wrapping or packaging. Many of the plastic pieces were inspired by anecdotes from students or staff members of what they have found while diving, or what they have read about in the news.
Painting murals—especially at ground-level, particularly in a busy location—is a special experience. The mural site becomes a place to share stories, ask questions, make observations, engage in reflection, and offer visions for the future. As she emerged— from our imaginations and onto the wall—”Dafne” reminded us of our close relationship with the incredible marine life that shares our blue planet, and inspired an awareness of how our actions on land directly impact life below the surface.
Whether in Maui; Boston (Bow Seat’s home); Lima, Peru (student artist Dafne’s hometown); or hundreds of miles inland, we can all respect and honor this interconnection by being conscious of—and reducing—our personal plastic consumption, and supporting community-based efforts to eliminate single-use plastics.
In addition to the mural, I led a series of workshops throughout the week that explored the question: How do artists play a role in communicating science, amplifying environmental activism, and creating space for change?
From an intro to ARTivism, to marine debris printmaking, to climate change poster design, these hands-on workshops introduced students to using art as a tool to raise awareness of environmental issues, and the power of creativity to inspire communities around the world to take action for the ocean.
Whether through a brushstroke on a wall or a campaign to reduce single-use plastic bottles on campus, I offered students an invitation: What can you create? What is your vision?
Nearly half of the world’s population is under the age of 25. It’s critical that young people not only find ways to step up as leaders, visionaries, and creators in their communities, but also find the support they need to do so. That support is Bow Seat’s kuleana.
At the end of five days—five blustery, rainy days—six new murals emerged on the high school’s campus, with ten more a mile away in downtown Wailuku. These works of art offer our visions and stories for mālama honua: caring for land, sea, our human communities, and our non-human relatives. While each mural marks an individual act of expression, Sea Walls embodies a collective act of creating; a global effort to bring communities together to care for our oceans. Bow Seat was honored to participate once again and empower the young citizens of Wailuku to keep up the momentum long after the paint dries.
Video: Jess T. Johnston
Sea Walls Maui Poster Design: Gavin Murai
Special thanks to H.P. Baldwin High School, Jan Sato, Ethan Estess, Sea Walls volunteers, and project partners: County of Maui, Small Town Big Art, Lush Cosmetics, Patagonia, Pacific Whale Foundation, Volcom, Montana Cans, Behr Paint, Coral Reef Alliance, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, StreetARToronto, the Johnson Ohana Foundation, and more.