‘INUNDATION: Art and Climate Change in the Pacific’ opens at Donkey Mill Art Center

  • Angela Tiatia filmed “Holding On” in 2015 on Tuvalu in the South Pacific. “Holding On” captures a struggle between the body of the artist and the body of the ocean as the tide gradually comes in. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Donkey Mill Art Center presents “INUNDATION: Art and Climate Change in the Pacific” through Oct. 11.

“INUNDATION” is in reference to both the watery disasters of climate change and the overwhelming emotions they invoke. This exhibition features nine contemporary artists based in the Pacific who experience the climate emergency as an extension of long-term colonial, extractive and development forces that have made their communities especially vulnerable.

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The artists are Mary Babcock, Kaili Chun, DAKOgamay, James Jack, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Charles Lim and Angela Tiatia.

With communities forcibly displaced by sea-level rise and storms, islands bombed, coral reefs mined, and local and indigenous environmental knowledge lost, resiliency seems difficult to imagine. And yet, communities around the Pacific are responding, first and foremost by offering compelling images of our relationship to water and to the climate.

Immersive, powerful, energetic, and undulating — the aesthetics of water is a dominant theme in the art of “INUNDATION.” The experience of being surrounded by water, the experience of wading in muliwai and loi, of being moved by ocean currents, shifted in its tides — and thriving — can open new conversations about what inundation means.

In contrast to the pervasive imagery of climate change as watery disaster, keeping viewers in a state of overwhelm, the artists in “INUNDATION” represent water as a generative force and fundamental to survival. Ultimately, the imagery reminds us that water needs to be respected, protected, and allowed to pursue its continual movement.

The nine artists featured offer powerful testimony and palpable imagery that bring the viewer closer to different climate situations around the Pacific: in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Tonga, Tuvalu, the Philippines, Singapore, Okinawa and beyond. The multimedia installations and video, including performance-based work, emphasize immersive imagery and narrative to help audiences understand the historical, cultural, economic, and political dimensions of climate change in these places and communities.

“It is our hope that INUNDATION gives us the space to share critical dialogue about climate change that can often feel overwhelming and consuming. The aim of reflecting on these relational changes with the environment is to provide breathing room for forward thinking discussions which empower our community to re-imagine futures and develop strategies which enable us to get there,” said Mina Elison, the center’s communications director and curator. “By breaking down the larger-than-life issue of climate change and making it personal, we can decide individually and as a community how to strengthen connections with the aina and make the changes necessary to support a culture of immersion and engagement — instead of inundation and displacement.”

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Conceived and curated by Jaimey Hamilton Faris, Associate Professor of Critical Theory and Art History at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the exhibition was featured at the university’s art gallery earlier this year. The Kona iteration of the exhibit is curated by Mina Elison. For more info on artists, programs and catalog, visit www.inundation.org.

Donkey Mill Art Center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, visit www.donkeymillartcenter.org or call (808) 322-3362.

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