Tue, Aug 03, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Taiwanese artist fights for future of Tuvalu

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Taiwanese artist Vincent Huang displays Suicide Penguins in London in this undated picture to draw public attention to the threat of global warming.

PHOTO: CNA

“The fate of my country rests in your hands,” said Ian Fry, the Tuvaluan delegate to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last year.

TV images of him tearfully pleading for legally binding agreements to fight climate change shocked Taiwanese artist Vincent Huang (黃瑞芳).

Huang, 39, decided to try to help raise awareness of the small Pacific country of Tuvalu, which faces rising sea levels that threaten to make it one of the first victims of global warming.

On July 17 on Funafuti, Tuvalu’s main island, Huang and two assistants waded out to a reef to erect a small sculpture of a desiccated mermaid made of dried coconut shells and scraggly pieces of palm trees. Later, children swam around the artwork wearing fake shark fins.

“The installation art of the dried Little Mermaid represented the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit. It is surrounded by sharks, a metaphor for the big powers,” Huang told the Central News Agency in Taipei, adding that waves battered the artwork, causing its partial destruction.

After displaying the work for about an hour, Huang burned the piece — titled Den lille havfrue after the Little Mermaid statue in the Danish capital — and collected the ashes in preparation for the next phase of his project.

“I will take ashes to England, the place where the Industrial Revolution began,” he said.

While the eco-art project may have been the first of its kind in Tuvalu, taking on serious issues is not new to Huang.

“An artist can also do something for the world; I learned this while pursuing my master’s degree at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, 10 years ago,” he said.

Huang has gained international attention with works like his sculpture of a polar bear holding US President Barack Obama’s severed head in its mouth, and his Suicide Penguins series that features penguins hanging from nooses in public places ranging from Taipei to London.

Polar bears and penguins are a recurring theme in Huang’s work — like Tuvaluans, their homes are in danger.

Climate change is not exclusive to any one nation or living creature, Huang said. It does not discriminate.

“Tuvalu will encounter the problem first, which is not fair, since it is a non-industrialized nation where people live a simple life, but have to pay for the failed policies of other countries,” he said.

Huang’s next plan for the Polynesian island is titled Balefire Project in Tuvalu, in which he plans to use an ancient Chinese practice to spread his message.

Huang said he would burn dried coconut shells along the coast of Funafuti during the day, creating old-fashioned distress signals. A more modern version will continue at night, when he plans to aim about 50 green laser lights into the sky from several locations around the island.

The artist said he is planning the project for the end of this month, but his work will not stop there.

“After finishing this piece, I will continue with another project during the Mexico climate change summit to be held at the end of November,” he said.

“I plan to draw the attention of the world to the problem of this island [Tuvalu] and enable people to work together to protect the Earth, which is home to all of us,” he said.

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