Australia: Defending the Ocean

August 14, 2017

On Friday, August 25, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection will hold a lecture and reception to open an exhibition titled Australia: Defending the Ocean at the Charles L. Brown Science and Engineering Library.

The exhibition, which has been installed in the Library’s reading room, highlights the ecological disaster created by abandoned and discarded fishing nets off the coast of northeastern Australia. These “ghost nets” are made of strong plastic designed to withstand the harsh ocean environment. A by-product of the commercial fishing industry, ghost nets drift on the ocean currents, trapping a rich array of marine life including such endangered species as sea turtles, sharks, rays and sawfish among many others. Eventually they drift to the ocean floor, suffocating marine animals and coral reefs alike and creating long term damage to the marine environment. It is estimated that over 640,000 tons of fishing equipment is left in the oceans each year.

Indigenous Australians were among the first to notice the devastating effects of ghost nets. For thousands of years, Indigenous people have retained and passed down extensive knowledge of marine life, a result of their longstanding stewardship of the environment in which they live. In reaction to the increasing threat posed by debris in the ocean, Aboriginal artists from Pormpuraaw, Queensland, have begun harvesting ghost nets and turning them into delightful sculptures of marine life. Their artworks raise awareness about the environmental threat of litter in the ocean.

Also included in the exhibition are three prints and an aluminum sculpture of a stingray by Brian Robinson (Maluyliga, Wuthathi, Malaysia Dayak). The sculpture, Ocean Guardian, represents the creation story of the Great Barrier Reef and is covered in mineral, the distinctive graphic patterns of Torres Strait art. In his linocut prints, Robinson draws on his Torres Strait Islander heritage and traditional art historical and pop culture imagery.

On Friday, August 25 at 4 pm professor Stephen Macko from UVA’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Kluge-Ruhe director Margo Smith will discuss the exhibition from two different perspectives. The lecture will be followed by a Final Fridays reception with refreshments concluding at 7 pm. Brown Library is located in Clark Hall, 291 McCormick Road, on UVA’s central Grounds.

Australia: Defending the Ocean was first exhibited at the United Nations during The Ocean Conference in June 2017. Kluge-Ruhe wishes to thank the artists of Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Center and the exhibition organizers Stéphane Jacob of Arts d’Australie, Paris, Suzanne O’Connell of Suzanne O’Connell Gallery, Brisbane, and John Stafford of Onespace Gallery, Brisbane, who represents Brian Robinson.