Undercurrents: Art and Ocean in Africa and the Pacific

The Glasgow School of Art is pleased to host Undercurrents: Art and Ocean in Africa and the Pacific at the Reid Gallery, 15 – 29 April 2023. The exhibition brings together new arts-based research that reveals human relationships and emotional connections with the ocean, produced by practitioners and grassroot organisations in Ghana, South Africa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.  

The exhibition is presented in partnership with One Ocean Hub, a programme of international research for sustainable development that supports fair and inclusive decision-making for a healthy ocean whereby people and planet flourish. Piloting innovative approaches to equitable ocean governance, the Hub initiated the Deep Emotional Engagement Programme (DEEP) Fund to support community-led art projects that communicate cultural and emotional bonds with the sea that are often overlooked in debates about ocean stewardship.  

‘Art powerfully supports the recognition of different forms of knowledge of the ocean, contributing to protecting cultural human rights and valuing different distinctive ocean-based livelihoods and voices that are essential for more integrated and fairer decisions about the ocean,’  

reflects Prof Elisa Morgera, One Ocean Hub Director.

Each of the featured works of art embody locally self-determined priorities, values and aesthetics that reflect the specific circumstances of their production. Indigenous knowledge, practices and worldviews are showcased in diverse media, ranging from film and song to tapestry and wearable art. 

Photo: Keiskamma Trust

‘From the tides of the Pacific to the currents of Africa, the sea is regarded as a sacred place of identity, nurture, healing, spirits and ancestors,’ says the exhibition’s curator Dr Lisa McDonald, of GSA’s School of Simulation and Visualisation. ‘Recontextualising the ocean as a space that unites rather than separates communities and countries reveals inherent common themes.’ 

From Ghana, Eric Debrah Otchere analyses the songs of fisherfolk in his documentary film Cocooned in Harmony; Straight Family Entertainment explores the legend of the African Mermaid in the song and video Mamme Water; and, Drama Queens documents the cultural and environmental significance of turtles in the graphic novel I Sea the Blue

From South Africa, the Keiskamma Art Project celebrates local memories, prayers and rituals in the tapestry Our Sacred Ocean; while the Urban Futures Centre and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance present edited stories and oral histories, with accompanying imagery, in Fishers Tales

From the Pacific; the Erromango Cultural Association in Vanuatu captures indigenous stories and knowledge in the illustrated children’s book Netai en Namou Toc (Stories of Mother Ocean); the Association of Solomon Islanders in Creative Fashion adopts wearable art to highlight customary relationships in Through the Ocean’s Lens; and, the intercountry project Our Ocean Our Identity conveys the shared historical and cultural significance of the sea with murals by Lloyd Newton in Solomon Islands, Alvaro Sumaki Kuautonga in Vanuatu and Pax Jakupa in Papua New Guinea.