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art on the environment

I’ve been doing a series of paintings with variations of mangroves. Initially, I chose them as thematic material because I doubted that anyone else would be using them as a theme. I saw them as mainly interesting shapes due to their roots.

As I painted, I started thinking about how mangroves have no economic value to humans, but immense value to animal life. Then I read that the coasts of Southeast Asia were being radically stripped of their mangrove forests, mostly for shrimp farming — and that the tsunami would not have been as devastating if the mangroves had been there to shield the coast. I read more and more & as I’ve painted, my appreciation of the mangrove ecosystem has grown.

Then I saw 3 spirit sculptures called imunus, from New Guinea at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. The people who carved them had gone on vision quests where they visualized their personal spirit protectors then looked for a shape that resonated to them as their spirit in the mangrove roots. They cut the roots to represent that spiritual being, and embellished the simple sculptures with just a bit more carving and perhaps a bits of twine. To them, the mangrove was obviously powerful.

Now I am contemplating a new direction in my next painting, possibly a diptych with 2 panels. On the left, the imunu with some sort of golden aura, and behind it, mangroves stretching out to the horizon behind, birds nesting in their branches. On the right, onshore development with tractors and backhoes and a sign announcing new waterfront condos, with a barren ocean behind.

As for whether or not artists should assign themselves the responsibility of using the dying globe as a theme, I think that if it’s something that’s within them to say, then their imunu will eventually lead them, there — but maybe their imunu needs to work with the joy that still remains in the world. We still need to know how to create it, too. It’s rare for me to use my art to preach — in this case there was a natural path to this result.

Comment made 14 years ago on Saturday 02 February 2008