Oceans, Art and Environmental Defenders

When? 10am CEST Wednesday 22 June 2022

Where? Register for this class on Zoom using this link – https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEkceyoqzgoGtS5VCH60nmz14PBLtHRi59r

The wellbeing of the planet’s oceans is fundamental to all life on earth. Global and national economies continue to place exponential pressure on our oceans through overfishing, cumulative impacts of land pollution, and prospecting and mining of our coasts and seabed. These increasing harms have simultaneously caused a rising tide of individuals and organised groupings to push back against economic extractions and externalities in the ocean. Some of these groups, such as small-scale fishers, youth and children, and coastal indigenous peopleare starting to re-conceptualise themselves as environmental defenders, standing up for environmental and human rights. These voices demand recognition that a healthy oceanic ecosystem is intimately tied up in our own livelihoods as well as cultural and spiritual wellbeing. Both nation states and big business increasingly see the ocean as the new frontier for economic growth. Consequently, a rushed existential struggle is emerging for a collective meaning making project that asks what it means to be human not just in our grandchildren’s future, but in the embodied realities of the immediate present. This struggle for the ocean takes place in the material and imaginative journeys across watery depths, sandy shorelines, and coral reefs. It is also realised in human innovation, novel artistic action and creative methods that recognise the relational wellbeing of human/oceans entanglements.

Art in all its multiple forms, drawing, animation, film, dance, sound, and performance is widely considered a useful medium of popular communication. As the creative processes in this session explore, it can do far more than this. Drawing on the strength of the aesthetics to enable us to imagine differently and across the fractures we have constructed amongst ourselves, an expanded conceptualisation of art recognises it as a powerful force for activism and advocacy towards ocean wellbeing. Art can be used as a translation protocol between knowledge canons for more equitable ocean governance frameworks, as a form of research to inform and provide evidence within legal processes, to support social movement building, to engage in public storytelling, to offer ritual, catharsis, and tend to ecological grief, as well as re-narrate and
create history – from below- of coastal people and environmental defenders. This session draws on examples from three different country contexts, to explore the many ways in which art contributes to the environmental defence of the oceans. It offers a space for artists, environmental defenders, researchers, and policy makers, amongst others, to discuss the possibilities of the creative arts in their own work towards ensuring the wellbeing of the ocean that sustains us all.

Panelists (tbc):

Dylan McGarry

Dr. Dylan McGarry is an educational sociologist, scholar activist and artist from Durban, South Africa. He is a Senior researcher at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at the University currently known as Rhodes. As well as the South African Director of the Global One Ocean Hub research network. Dylan is the co-founder of Empatheatre, and a passionate artist and story-teller. He explores practice-based research into connective aesthetics, transgressive social learning, decolonial practice, queer-eco pedagogy, immersive empathy, African spirituality and intangible hertiage in South Africa. His artwork and social praxis (which is closely related to his research) is particularly focused on empathy, and he primarily works with imagination, listening and intuition as actual sculptural materials in social settings to offer new ways to encourage personal, relational and collective agency.

Dr. Kira Erwin

Kira is a senior researcher in the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology, in South Africa. She is a sociologists with a focus on social and environmental justice. Her past projects explore narratives of home and belonging within the context of migration and gender; as well as state delivered housing. She currently works on two environmental justice projects; one on zero-waste and informal work in the city, and the second on people’s spiritual, scientific and symbolic relationships with the oceans. She uses creative participatory methods and is fortunate to work in a collective of scholars, activist and artists. Her research explores how the arts broadly can act as a translation protocol between canons of knowledge in society towards more inclusive and just forms of governance.



Meghan Judge

Meghan Judge is an artist living in South Africa. She generates transdiciplinary research, working through art and earth science as a mode for engaging fluid, risk-taking designs that track where difference lies in relation to epistemological disobedience and power. Her work forms at the active edges of perception, sensing wayward human-eco relations. Most recently, Meghan has developed a (sonic) sensory palette for inquiring into and understanding human-ocean relations outside of anthropocentric determinacies. Meghan has organised and participated in residencies and exhibitions across Southern and Eastern Africa, Europe and the United Kingdom. She has recently been offered a position as a postdoctoral fellow at the South African Research Chair in Science Communication at Stellenbosch University. She has been a fellow in the Oceanic Humanities for the Global South project at WiSER in the University of the Witwatersrand where she did her PhD, and she obtained her MA (cum laude) from the Wits School of Arts.


Michaela Howse

Michaela was born in 1981 in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She grew up in Gqeberha, then began pursuing an education in design, starting at Stellenbsoch University with a B.A. Fine Art in graphic design. Her part time experience in the developing craft industry at the time led her to explore a holistic approach to design in the context of craft, growing a company called Streetwires in Cape Town (a collective of wire and bead artists) through design led development. After many years in craft and design, and some years in film, she returned to university to do an honours in Visual Studies followed by a Master’s degree in Visual Art. During her degree she specialised in the curatorial field, following on with her first solo exhibition at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre in November 2017. Subsequently, she is pursuing the practicing field of curatorship (and management!) for the Keiskamma Art Project, while studying for her doctorate through the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

Anna Naupa

Saskia Vermeylen

Saskia Vermeylen is interested in the normative dimension of environmental law and her research focuses specifically on the connection between international environmental law, justice and ethics. Inspired by her empirical fieldwork in Southern Africa, Saskia’s research explores the relationship between global and local law and has introduced a post-colonial and emancipatory understanding of legal pluralism and ‘informal’ law in the following areas: tangible and intangible property rights of Indigenous peoples, benefit-sharing agreements and environmental justice, property theory and resource frontiers, enclosure of tangible and intangible commons. Saskia is also an experienced international curator and in her curatorial practice she examines how the arts and curating can inform her transformative and activist led legal practice. ​

Yuvan Aves

Yuvan is a writer, naturalist, educator and activist based in Chennai. His interests include reimagining an Earth-centric and child-centric education, the reciprocity between languages and ecologies,  and ground-up processes of change and politics. He writes on topics at the intersection of ecology, education, and human/more-than-human consciousness. He is the author of two books, recipient of the M.Krishnan Memorial Nature Writing Award and the Sanctuary Asia Green Teacher Award. He loves working with children and consults for a number of alternative educational institutions across India. He is the Founder-trustee of Palluyir Trust for Nature Education and Research.

Eric Otchere

Eric Debrah Otchere teaches in the Department of Music and Dance (Faculty of Arts, College of Humanities and Legal Studies) at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. His research interests cover areas in Music Education (e.g. pedagogy, philosophy, curriculum, research methods) and Music Psychology (e.g. music and emotions, musical development, music preferences, music cognition, emotional intelligence, health and wellbeing).

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