Caribbean art exhibit portrays the threatened beauty of the ocean as deep-sea mining negotiations come to an end in Jamaica

Members of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance Caribbean (left to right): Robyn Young (Jamaica), Monique Calderon (St. Lucia), Kyle Foster (Barbados), Kirpa Grewal (Grenada) and Alexander Barkley (Trinidad and Tobago). The organisation partnered with another arts group to stage the regional art exhibit that interpreted the risks of deep-sea mining and brought them to life. Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

As the sometimes tense deliberations of the Council and the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) dragged on at the UN agency's headquarters, the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston, a vibrant art exhibit brought the subject of the negotiations to life: deep-sea mining, the mostly unexplored depths of the deep sea, and the threats it faces.

“Ocean Depths Unveiled: Preserving the Abyss” was organized by the Trinidad and Tobago-based Ecovybz Environmental Creatives in partnership with another youth-led organisation, Sustainable Oceans Alliance (SOA) Caribbean and funded by the Open Society Foundations. The exhibition celebrated the wonders of the deep sea, while sending a message that the planet's last and greatest wilderness (and carbon sink) must be protected and preserved.

The exhibition complemented the work of a tireless coalition of young people in Jamaica, in partnership with regional and international non-governmental organisations as well as indigenous Pacific Islanders. These “Deep Sea Minders” continue to campaign for a stop to destructive activity and have been raising awareness through traditional and social media in Jamaica. They have also protested on the hot, windy waterfront in downtown Kingston, opposite the conference centre. Pacific Islanders have also made their unique contributions to the debate, inside and outside the conference centre walls.

Discussions at the ISA, and the campaign itself, have been long and exhausting, and eventually closed with a partial victory for campaigners: the ISA had not been able to agree on or adopt rules for deep-sea mining and was under increasing pressure from a growing number of countries and environmental activists calling for a moratorium. However, as delegates trudged wearily back to their hotels on the evening of July 27, efforts to put the issue of a possible halt to deep-sea mining firmly on the agenda for discussion were stymied by China and Nauru.

I attended the opening of the art exhibition at a New Kingston hotel, along with a large audience of ISA delegates and activists. I chatted with a few artists and others involved in the evening's activities.

‘Ocean Mysteries’ by Jamaican artist Danaree Greaves. Her work consists of rug weaving, tapestry weaving, coiling, fabric manipulation, macramé, and plastics. Photos by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

Jamaican textile and fibre artist Danaree Greaves explained her work:

I specialise in art works relating to the sea — specifically corals and marine life. I like to show the beauty in my own way, because it is an amazing place. But there are hidden messages in my work, so you will see a lot of plastics and different types of recycled materials. The blues represent the vibrant life of the sea, but there are browns and whites — bleached corals are the white. My message is that [we need to] do something about the amount of plastics in our ocean and I also have a message of oil spills bleeding into the sea.

Executive director of the Global Sustainable Development Network and environmental and climate activist, Jamaica's Mario Galbert observed:

I think the exhibit is an opportunity for young people to see what we are talking about in terms of conservation, and to live a moment of what's below the sea and how important it is to defend the deep. Now it is important for people to see and to connect with it, and to do further research.

Details of ‘By the Sea’ and ‘Shellings’ by Jamaican artist Ammoy Smith. Photos by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

Ammoy Smith, whose works were shown at the exhibition, said:

I think this exhibition is an eye-opener for Jamaicans. I don't think a lot of Jamaicans are aware of deep-sea mining or fully grasp what it means for the ocean. It's truly an honour to be here with other artists, to highlight this growing concern. I have two pieces in this exhibition. ‘By the Sea’ highlights the changes in the ocean over the years, in particular, pollution. ‘Shelling’ highlights the issue of the coral reefs and the sea shells and how this will change over time.

Khadijah Stewart, an exhibition organiser and observer at the talks for the Sustainable Ocean Alliance Caribbean, shared her thoughts:

The deep ocean is an absolutely magical place with slow-moving, luminous species, ancient corals, unique life forms and incredible geological features. However, it is something far removed from our realities and everyday life, so through art the goal of the exhibition was to bring the deep ocean to life, to connect delegates, civil society, NGOs, governments and more to see that this world is worth protecting, so they can understand why we need to defend the deep and stop deep-sea mining.

L: A piece by Peruvian artist Jose Puma. R: Eleven-year-old Emma King is inspired to paint at the exhibition. Photos by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

The youngest artist at the exhibition opening was 11-year-old Emma King, who was busy doing her own painting. She told me that she really enjoyed the virtual reality activity, adding:

I love the art a lot — it's very heartfelt.

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