Nov 19, 2018

Giving oceans a voice through public art

Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans is a public art programme bringing messages of ocean conservation into streets around the globe.  Now, it’s taking over the streets of Gisborne.

Micronesian Master Navigator ‘Papa’ Mau Piailug, painted by contemporary Māori artist Poihakena Ngawati on a wall in Gisborne, New Zealand

Contemporary artist Erana Koopu of Ngāti Awa me Te Whānau-ā-Apanui is depicting the ancestor Paikea who arrived to the region on the back of a whale.

“We need to be aware of what’s happening in the environment and what’s destroying our ocean because we, as Māori, are ocean people so we need to wake up to those issues of reviving and improving our ocean,” says Koopu.

Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans collaborates with over 200 international artists, creating over 300 walls in 12 countries around the world.

By sonnysundancer (Gisborne) on Instagram

Poihakena Ngawati descends from Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi and Tainui waka.  His work pays homage to Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug, a master of wayfinding and traditional navigation by the stars.

Affectionately known as Papa Mau, he was the key source of knowledge from which sprang forth the revival of traditional sea voyaging currently thriving throughout the Pacific.

“It’s a way of teaching us to observe our surroundings, to observe the ocean and the changes that are happening and the effects that we have on the ocean,” says Ngawati.

Founder and Executive Director at Pangeaseed, Trē Packard says that scientific estimates show that the ocean will have more plastic than fish by 2050, and issues such as climate change, overfishing, plastics, and pollution are all affecting the health and sustainability of the ocean.

“In the end, people protect what they love and it’s critical that we’re protecting our oceans.  They supply 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe.  Oceans are the most important ecosystems on the planet.  With no healthy oceans, life on land is impossible so we’ve got to do whatever we can to work together to collaborate to give our oceans a voice,” says Packard.

By pageaseed (Gisborne) on Instagram

Local artists are drawing upon traditional accounts that bind them to the ocean.

Nick Tupara of Ngāti Oneone is depicting a guardian shark.

“I wanted to remind people of the impact that we have on our whenua, much of what makes us rich as a people in Te Tairāwhiti on land, comes from what makes us rich in the moana,” he says.

Packard says it’s about provoking everyone to rally together and protect the ocean to survive.

Artist Gina Kiel with her “Seal” mural


By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes for Maori Television, 12 October 2018