But it also has an artistic streak. That’s because in the Open Sea’s final gallery, Ocean Travelers, visitors are introduced to artists and activists Chris Jordan, Alyssa Irizarry, Alison McDonald, Bryant Austin – who have devoted their work to conserving the world’s oceans. Each live animal exhibit in Ocean Travelers is paired with an art installation to raise awareness about the threats facing those animals. Visitors learn what they can do to ensure safe passage for the unique fishes, sharks, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals that live in the open ocean. Nearby, short video clips of the artists explain the motivation and passion behind their work.
Photographer Chris Jordan’s piece, Shark Teeth, represents the thousands of sharks killed each year for their fins. Viewed from afar, you see a yin-yang image of two species of sharks encircling a mercury symbol. Move closer and you see the image comprises thousands of fossilized shark teeth.
Sea Turtle Murals
In 1996 a group of artists set out to create a series of sea turtle murals along the 1,000 mile-long Baja Peninsula. Most of the artists were self-taught and in collaboration with the conservation group, El Grupo Tortuguero, agreed to create beautiful sea turtle murals if given paints, brushes and food. Alyssa Irizarry, a Tufts University student, was curious if the murals could help turn the tide in local communities away from consuming sea turtles to protecting them. Her findings showed the murals did indeed help change attitudes and behaviors about endangered sea turtles. Her admonition: “Keep on painting!”
Message in a Bottle
Australian Alison McDonald created Message in a Bottle, a dozen sculptures that examine the relationship humans have with plastic. McDonald’s installation features meticulous cutwork using recycled plastic to create delicate algae. The piece invites viewers to re-shape their thinking about plastic and its often disastrous effect in the open sea and on land.
Giant Whale Photo
Bryant Austin of Santa Cruz, California, creates life-size photographs of whales. In the Open Sea, you’ll be eye-to-eye with a black-and-white composite photograph of the face of an endangered humpback whale calf. Austin captured the photograph on a Hasselblad portrait camera while free-diving in the Kingdom of Tonga. After composing a series of photographs, he digitally stitches them together and produces a profound, life-size representation. Through his creations, Austin and the group Marine Mammal Conservation through the Arts hope to inspire change within countries that continue to hunt or harm whales.
Each artist featured in the Ocean Travelers gallery uses different materials to create their pieces, but the common thread is an awareness of environmental issues affecting the oceans and a clear message of how visitors can help conserve the oceans and ensure safe passage for transoceanic animals.