By Hannah Apricot Eckberg
For many years I have been inspired by the captivating art and true dedication of “Artivist” Peggy Oki. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with her in her home town of Carpentaria, to talk about her latest efforts to use art for activism: the “Lets Face It” visual protest to help save the last of the very endangered Maui Dolphins.
During a trip to New Zealand about seven years ago, Peggy learned about the tragic plight of the Maui Dolphins. Named after a Polynesian God, and found only in a small area on the west coast of the North Island, today there remain less then 60 of these magnificent creatures. Fishing by gill-net and trawling captures the dolphins in the nets where they suffer until they drown to death. Their cousin, the Hector Dolphin, found further south off New Zealand, who’s numbers hover around seven thousand, also are threatened by these fishing practices. Banned in many countries, gill nets and trawling causes enormous destruction of ocean floor habitat and kills thousands of unintended species, known as “by-catch.”
A few years ago, Peggy created a “Curtain of 1,111 Origami Maui’s Dolphins” with 1,000 as the traditional number in Japanese lore, along with 111 as a separate smaller section to illustrate how few of the Maui’s Dolphins remain (as estimated in 2007). This environmental art piece was to be presented to the government by a schoolteacher and students. Though the Prime Minister didn’t agree to meet with them, this curtain was then displayed in prominent museums, including the TePapa (New Zealand’s national) Museum.
To help raise awareness about the Maui and Hector Dolphins, and to persuade the New Zealand government to join the ban of gill net fishing, Peggy started a visual protest at www.Lets-Face-It-Dolphins.com. Inspired by a similar effort by the organization Surfers for Cetaceans, people can go to this web site, download photos of the dolphins, take their photo with it, and post it to the web site. In April of this year, with her “Let’s Face It” Visual Petition campaign, 1,000 photos were organized onto three large banners, and have been used in many protests since to continue to raise awareness. In the middle of November, Peggy sent 4,856 pictures of concerned citizens from around the world to the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. She will continue to gather submissions and support for the efforts to call for protection of these critically endangered species.
Today, most canned tuna sold in the US has the distinctive picture of the dolphin and says “Dolphin Safe.” It is easy to think that all dolphins are safe to swim and hunt where they need, however, this is far from the truth. The animals know no political boundaries. And ever increasing human-caused, anthropomorphic pollution in the oceans threatens not only dolphins, but also whales and other sea creatures globally. Peggy told me about six sperm whales found washed up dead with their bellies full of plastic shopping bags. Our actions on land have far reaching effects!
When asked if she feels like there have been successes in the quest to protect the Cetaceans of the world, Peggy says “yes.” The Oscar-winning documentary film “The Cove” has helped educate people about what is happening. If you have not seen the movie because you feel it is too graphic, Peggy says there are only two segments of the film when you may want to close your eyes: about 1/3rd of the way into the film, there is a 30 second segment, and then 4 minutes towards the end. However, witnessing what the dolphins experience is motivation for action. Ignorance is not bliss, nor an excess to let a species disappear forever.
By taking responsibility of our consumer habits and putting pressure on governments to change their fishing and killing practices, we can all be part of the solution! To other artists who wish to be “Artivists,” and use their art for action, Peggy encourages them to become educated about their passions, and find a way to integrate art into it. For example, in 2007, the Japanese Government allowed 50 endangered Humpback Whales to be killed. In reaction, Peggy painted portraits of 50 individual whales’ flukes to show how unique each one is. “Just like humans or dogs, each whale has a different personality,” Peggy reminds us.
To learn more about Peggy Oki’s activism and art, or to join in her efforts, go to Facebook and “like” her “Origami Whale” page. Follow her “I work it for the Whales” blog athttp://www.Peggy-Oki.com. Participate today in the visual protest at http://www.Lets-Face-It-Dolphins.com .
HopeDance FiLMs will be screening the film OCEAN FRONTIERS, in 2013. Please see the trailer at HERE . Hannah Apricot Eckberg is a regular contributor to HopeDance Online. See her media projects at http://www.spreadingsolutions.com/spreading_solutions/welcome.html