On Sharks & Humanity – Art as a bridge between mankind and nature

Monumental Exhibition opens at Oceanographic Museum Sunday, June 8, 2014

The exhibition On Sharks & Humanity will open to the public at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco on Sunday, June 8, 2014, joining countries in every continent in celebrating World Oceans Day. This artistic initiative aims to be an international event to create awareness over and above frontiers and culture, thanks to the universal language of art. Conceived by Parkview Arts Action in close collaboration with the Oceanographic Museum and the non-profit association WildAid, this exhibition gathers a collection of 10 contemporary Chinese artists that will present 11 artworks placing sharks and its preservation center stage. Each one of them expresses the complex and particular relationship of men and sharks and by extension our relationship with nature. This one-of-a-kind exhibition will inhabit the Museum until March 8, 2015, before moving to another international exposition space not unveiled for the moment. After that it will be presented in the heart of the National Museum of Beijing in China.

Colossal installations, sculptures, paintings and even poems will intermingle in various rooms and on the panoramic terrace of the museum, challenging the visitors and inviting them to connect with the soul of sharks becoming one with this marine creature, feeling the fear of the animal in the net, opening up to the experience and going beyond prejudices. This monumental artistic showcase complements and adds artistic interpretation to the Museum’s current scientific exhibition entitled “Sharks: a thrilling experience”, that was designed to overcome the stereotypes about them. “On Sharks and Humanity” emphasizes through an artistic interpretation the important role sharks have in the regulation of the marine ecosystems and the negative impact of overfishing. Dedicated for more than 100 years in the understanding and protection of the oceans, the Oceanographic Institute is honored to promote its message in partnership with socially responsible international organizations like Parkview Arts Action and Wild Aid.

Together for the love of the oceans and the health of the planet

The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, main host of the exhibition, was founded by H.S.H. Prince Albert I of Monaco in 1910 to bring together the two driving forces of civilization: Art and Science, offering visitors a unique experience, allowing them to discover, love and assist in the protection of the oceans, thus preserving the common heritage of humankind. The Museum welcomes international contemporary art exhibitions since 2010, to the likes of Damien Hirst, Huang Yong Ping, Mark Dion or even Marc Quinn. A meeting place for the mediation between scientific, political, socio-economical actors and the public in general, the Oceanographic Institute is engaged since 2012 on a leading program to create awareness, love and protect sharks. For further information: http://www.oceano.org

Robert Calcagno, General Director of the Oceanographic Institute underlines, “Second world economic power, China is also the principal consumer of sharks fins and its commercial trade. Arising from a Chinese group, their art pieces provide more weight to the cause. It is estimated that man kills more than 100 million sharks every year, and many species are in the verge of extinction worldwide. This predator, placed in the top of the food chain, is therefore indispensable to the natural balance of the marine ecosystem.”

Parkview Arts Action logoParkview Arts Action, an extension of de Parkview Group, is a new arts organization that aims to utilize the transformative power of art to sensitize the public to the crucial environmental questions and promote change in the international community as a whole. In collaboration with conservationists, art galleries and museums, the organization offers artists the opportunity to approach the relationship between man and its environment. Aiming to emphasize the current habitat preservation concerns, the current program has at its main goal to promote a debate among the public, the scientific community, the companies and opinion leaders. For further information: http://www.parkviewartsaction.com 

George Wong, Parkview Arts Action Founder and Hong Kong Parkview Group Executive Chairman stated: “This is a serious environmental issue that affects us all. Shark preservation is undoubtedly critical. Declining shark numbers pose a fundamental threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Through the support of these talented Chinese contemporary artists, On Sharks & Humanity can inform and confront audiences in ways that strike more directly into the human psyche than the more abstract language of scientific debate.” He was categorical when affirming: “The preservation of sharks is crucial, because a fundamental threat weighs over the good equilibrium of the oceans. Thanks to the artists’ support “On Sharks & Humanity” redefines the relationship that unites man to these lords of the seas, creating through art a strong emotional link.” 

WildAidWildAid is a leading international non-profit association, which mission is to end illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes by reducing demand through public awareness campaigns and providing comprehensive marine protection. Their campaign on shark’s fins, through awareness campaigns to inform the public about the brutal impact their overconsumption has on the marine biodiversity. The WildAid campaign “Say No to Shark Fin”, with the active collaboration of celebrities, has obtained an estimated 50% reduction in consumption of sharks’ fins in China, in parallel with a government decision to banish it from their official events. For further information: http://www.wildaid.org 

Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid concludes, “This exhibition is necessary to create awareness among the great public of the significance of the commercialization of sharks fins that encouraging overfishing, threatens certain sharks’ species. The only long-term solution is reducing demand. Together with the Chinese government, the major entrepreneurs and the opinion leaders, we must make evolve mentalities and change what is socially acceptable.”

Meet the Talented artists with a preview of their works

On Sharks & Humanity brings together recent works by 10 contemporary Chinese artists, each of them expressing in their own particular way, the tense relationship of humans and sharks. Individually and together they will surely draw attention to the many different aspects of his urgent environmental issue that matters to us all. Shark preservation is undoubtedly critical and their decline poses a fundamental threat to the health of the world’s oceans.

Wang Luyan is one of China’s leading conceptual artists. The Net is an installation of Stainless Steel measuring 2100 x 2000 x 500cm, and weighing 15,000 Kg – Representing the drag net commonly used in fishing. Invites the visitor to move through the installation experiencing the net from the viewpoint of a shark or other sea life caught within it, becoming the captive.

Weng Fen is an active contemporary performance artist since 1997. He continues to create works relating to man, nature and urbanisation. The Body and the Sharks is a Film of 6 min, 40 seconds – Depicting the artist in a 10m3 water tank with two sharks evoking tension and vulnerability between man and shark.

Fan Xueyi was born in the Heilongjian Province, she is a poet, painter and gallery art director who  published her collection of poetry Childhood River. Her work for this exhibition is a poem entitled  I am Part of You, 2014.

Li Hui, born in Beijing the artist explores the physical properties of materials and the relationship between material and form. His sculpture is entitled Tsunami Sharks, measuring 200 x 100 x240(h) cm, of mirror finished stainless steel and resin. It symbolizes the power of the tsunami, and wrath of nature are explored through the sense of fragmentation and destructive energy that emanates from this sculpture. A harpoon pierces the mirrored surface, illustrating humanity’s destructive power. The visitor is confronted with his own image forcing us to question our desire to dominate nature.

Zheng Lu, born in Chi Feng, Inner Mongolia is an sculptor who belongs to the generation of young Chinese artists that witnessed the rapid economic, social and cultural changes in China. His sculpture The Butterfly in Love with the Flower, measuring 652 x 206 x 410 (h) cm, is made of Stainless Steel. Large stainless steel depiction of a shark fin characterised by its delicate bubble-like structure. The title refers to a Chinese poem in which a butterfly falls in love with a flower about to disappear.

Zou Liang – His sculptures frequently attempt to explore the existential conditions of life. Swimming, measuring 366 x 162 x 245(h) cm, made of stainless steel is a sculpture of a great white shark providing a positive contrast to other works with steel silhouettes of ocean creatures form the structure of the shark. On its back the figures of two small children illustrating that sharks are not a humans’ natural enemies.

Xia Hang – His works made of polished stainless steel can be assembled and disassembled, exploring multiple configurations. Top Poseidon is made in stainless steel measuring 380 x 175 x 192cm. In this sculpture the shark is portrayed as a war ship, but a sense of transience is evoked as the different elements can be reassembled in a different form.

Yu Yang – His artistic practice straddles both art and design combining traditional Chinese references with contemporary themes. Enlightenment is made of coloured Stainless Steel, measuring 340 x 250 x 380cm, composed of fishing harpoons used in the capture and killing of sharks, describing the animal form and its destruction.

Gao Xiaowu – This artist’s sculptures often explore the new challenges faced by ordinary people in contemporary Chinese cities through humor and satire. Evolution is a sculpture in Stainless Steel, measuring 328 x 183 x 179 (h) cm, depicting n of a shark transformed into an extravagant ornamental goldfish illustrating the human tendency to work against nature.

Liu Zining – The artist’s style is expressed through the use of color and perspective to explore visual power. He will exhibit 2 pieces: Looking at me, looking at you, using board, propylene, silk mesh, transparent acrylic, 300 x 200 cm. The other one entitled Us, using board propylene, silk mesh, transparent acrylic 300 x 200 cm. The eye as an expression of the interior world. Looking back at the shark in a mutual exchange with the viewer’s image reflected in the shiny surface, placing them at the center of the work. The indignant and sorrowful expression in the shark’s eye moves the viewer humanizing the experience.

Artists photo credit @Parkview Arts Action

Celebrating World Oceans Day – Together we have the power to protect the oceans

WOD_Logo_smallWorld Oceans Day is annually observed on June 8 to raise awareness of the challenges humanity faces to protect the world’s oceans. In 2008, the UN General Assembly decided that, as from 2009, 8 June would be designated by the United Nations as « World Oceans Day » (resolution 62/111, paragraph 171). Many countries have celebrated World Oceans Day following the UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The oceans are essential to food security and the health and survival of all life, power our climate and are critical part of the biosphere. The official designation of World Oceans Day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans. For information:http://worldoceansday.org

The King of the sea – Shark’s role in the ocean

Parts of a sharkSharks are a group of fish characterized by a cartilaginous skeleton, five to seven gill slits on the sides of the head, and pectoral fins that are not fused to the head.Sharks have diversified into over 470 species ranging in size from the small dwarf lantern shark, a deep-sea species of only 17 cm in length, to the whale shark, the largest fish in the world reaching approximately 12 meters. Sharks are found in all seas and are common to depths of 2,000 meters. Only a few exceptions live in fresh water such as the bull shark and the river shark which can survive in both seawater and freshwater. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago, even before the time of the dinosaurs.

Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean and scientists consider them to be “keystone” species, so that removing them causes the whole structure to collapse. They play a very important role, by keeping populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem. They tend to eat very efficiently, going after the old, sick, or slower fish in a population that they prey upon thus keeping it healthy. Some also scavenge the sea floor to feed on dead carcasses. By removing the sick and weak, they prevent the spread of disease and avoid outbreaks that could be devastating. Preying on the weakest individuals also strengthens the gene pools of the prey species. Sharks groom many populations of marine life to the right size so that those prey species are kept in balance. Since the largest, strongest and healthiest fish generally reproduce in great numbers, the outcome is larger numbers of healthier fish. Where sharks are eliminated, the marine ecosystem loses its balance.

Unfortunately, it is estimated people kill 100 million sharks every year, due to commercial and recreational fishing, 11,000 are killed every hour. It is estimated that only 10% of the sharks that were in the oceans 15-20 years ago are left. The brutal practice of slicing off a shark’s fins, known as shark finning, yields are estimated at 1.44 million metric tons for 2000, and 1.41 million tons for 2010. Approximately 38 million sharks are killed for fins annually. Based on an analysis of average shark weights, this translates into a total annual mortality estimate of about 100 million sharks in 2000, and about 97 million sharks in 2010, with a total range of possible values between 63 and 273 million sharks per year.

Fin skeletons are elongated and supported with soft and unsegmented rays named ceratotrichia, filaments of elastic protein resembling the horny keratin in hair and feathers.Most sharks have eight fins. Sharks can only drift away from objects directly in front of them because their fins do not allow them to move in the tail-first direction. The value of shark fins for shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy, has led to an increase in shark catches. Usually only the fins are taken, while the shark sometimes still alive is thrown back into the sea to bleed to death. The fin is a tasteless product that translates into “fish wing” and adds nothing more than structure to a broth, so it is unimaginable it is the reason for the death of millions of sharks. Fin soup used to be reserved for the wealthy but with a growing middle class, is now becoming common fare at weddings, banquets and business meetings with a bowl costing up to US Dollars 100, making the fins easily the most lucrative part of the shark. Since shark meat is inferior to other fish and the bodies are bulky and take up precious cargo space, sharks are finned around the world. This practice is incredibly wasteful as it utilizes 1 to 5% of the shark’s body weight, removing an essential food source from many communities. Additionally, without the fins attached, many sharks can’t be identified, which further impedes management.

History of Shark Fin Soup – Tides are turning

As the story goes, shark fin soup was created by an emperor in the Sung Dynasty (AD 968) who wanted to show his banquet guests how powerful, wealthy and generous he was. Therefore, serving the expensive dish came to be seen as a sign of respect.The dish became a popular delicacy and is now known for being part of what is known as the Big 4 – a set of dishes representing different things in Chinese culture such as prosperity and health at a traditional dinner banquet. Often reserved for special occasions like weddings, the Big 4 consists of:

The Big Four

  1. Abalone [bào]
  2. Sea cucumber [shēn]
  3. Shark fin [chì]
  4. Fish maw [dǔ]

Shark fin as a symbol of status & face – In many dishes in traditional cultures, shark fin is served as a symbol of class and wealth. Shark fin – like a brand name car or bag – is known as a “conspicuous consumption” product, meaning that it is served as a public display of social status. Traditionally, the groom’s side of the family pays for the wedding banquet and folklore used to say that “a bride marrying into a family without shark fin soup on the table, is marry into a poor family.” Although we now know that is simply not true, this dish now has become an ingrained tradition of status, “face” and respect. Much like how one may expect turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, banquet guests may expect shark fin at the wedding table.

Shark fin as an act of generosity and promoting health – In Chinese culture, there is a strong virtue of “sharing your fortune” with others. Many elders (our parents and grandparents) who emigrated out of their home country did it to build a future for their children. Often times, these elder struggled with poverty and segregation and serving shark fin at their children’s or grandchildren’s banquet is their way of saying, “look how hard I have worked my whole life. Now I can finally afford these expensive dishes and I want to share it with you all – my family, my friends.” Furthermore, shark fins’ were believed in Chinese culture to have properties boosting sexual potency, enhancing skin quality, increasing QI or energy, preventing heart disease, and lowering cholesterol. It is even alleged in old Chinese medical books that shark fins help in areas of rejuvenation, appetite enhancement, and blood nourishment plus are beneficial to vital energy, kidneys, lungs, bones and other parts of the body. But there is no scientific evidence to support that any of these traditional claims whatsoever. Creating awareness and with all the alternatives available for banquet hosts, we’re already beginning to see a shift in consumer behavior and a desire to go Fin Free.

To see how values are changing, watch Tides are Turning.

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6 thoughts on “On Sharks & Humanity – Art as a bridge between mankind and nature

  1. Sounds great Celina! We bought a signed Damien Hirst book at the Museum when we went to the exhibition when in Monaco for Zsolt’s party. When we lived in HongKong, we rented a great apartment at 3 Repulse Bay Road and at top of hill was a huge apt development called Parkview—built by a mega wealthy HK Chinese who exhibited many great art pieces in the lobby area, Buddhas, Picasso, Chagall,VanGogh etc etc–amazing place! I wonder if Parkview Arts is connected?

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  2. Pingback: Sharks, Friend or Foe? Living in harmony with other species to protect our ecosystem | Monaco Reporter

  3. Pingback: Sharks, Friend or Foe? Living in harmony with other species to protect our ecosystem - Living On The Côte Azur

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