For Taiwanese artist Vincent J.F. Huang (黃瑞芳), art is a tool that can be used to take on serious issues, and his latest artistic offensive is a mission to draw the world’s attention to Tuvalu, a Pacific island country at risk of being destroyed by rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Huang set out on Tuesday to visit the small Pacific country to undertake an eco-art project aimed at highlighting the crisis facing Tuvalu, one of Taiwan’s 23 diplomatic allies.
Huang said his planned eco-art projects will underline the importance of protecting the environment to save countries like Tuvalu from being submerged.
One project will involve setting up installation artworks in the waters off the country’s coastline featuring images of polar bears squeezed into oil drums, a concept inspired by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic.
Huang said he wanted to raise awareness that such oil exploration could further damage the environment, exacerbate global warming and put Tuvalu in an even more precarious situation.
Another goal of the mission will be to “enhance Taiwan’s image through the arts,” said Huang, who is leading a four-member team to set up the artworks later this week.
His visit will coincide with one being made by Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton.
The 41-year-old artist said he wanted to take advantage of the British royal family’s visit to increase international coverage of his efforts to warn of the environmental danger looming over Tuvalu.
The royals are scheduled to visit Tuvalu, a member of the Commonwealth, next week as part of an Asian-Pacific tour to mark the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II, according to media reports.
Another one of Huang’s eco-art projects is a fuel truck nozzle tied in a knot. The work, expected to be 1.7m high and 4m long, will feature an image of a polar bear relaxing on a hammock and will symbolize the end of the world’s reliance on oil and a move back toward a more simple way of life, Huang said.
The artist visited Tuvalu in 2010 on a similar mission. During that trip, he waded out to a reef on the country’s main island and erected a small sculpture of a desiccated mermaid made of dried coconut shells and pieces of palm trees. Children then swam circles around the piece while wearing fake shark fins.
The figure of the dried mermaid represented the failure of the 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, while the sharks were a metaphor for the “big powers,” Huang said, referring to the world’s richest nations.
Through his art, Huang said he also wants to help Taiwan’s bid to participate in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations.
Having spent about 10 years creating eco-art, Huang is dedicated to promoting awareness of and preventing global warming, and several of his creations have received widespread international media attention.
One of those high-profile projects featured penguins, who are likely to be some of the first species to fall prey to global warming.
Huang exhibited the work, called Naked Penguins, in Hanover, Germany, as well as in Taipei and London to spread the message that the environment is now too hot for the flightless birds.
It was followed by the Suicide Penguins project in which penguins hung themselves from the Millennium Bridge in London. It was a form of “guerrilla street art” to show how the warming of the environment has harmed penguins, he said.