by Keziah VikranthSep 27, 2023
Sunaparanta, Goa Centre for the Arts (SGCFA), a gallery pioneering the art landscape in a unique direction on the west coast of India, presents Invasion of the Seas, the first exhibition in the subcontinent showcasing the work of international award-winning photographer, Mandy Barker. The England-raised photographer cultivates a practice which addresses increasingly dire and pressing issue of marine plastic debris in our oceans. Barker works with scientists to raise awareness through her captivating image making craft. Her oeuvre has been on display at venues like MoMA, Hong Kong Science and Technology Park and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. She has also been published widely by CNN, TIME, National Geographic and VICE. Invasion of the Seas includes the artist’s newest body of work, produced by patrons Dipti and Dattaraj V Salgaocar. The show depicts a range of images, as well as retrieved waste objects and Barker’s documentation journals from a major scientific mission to Henderson Island, one of the world’s most remote places that scientists discovered to be polluted with 38 million pieces of plastic waste. The artist, along with SGCFA curator, Leandre D’Souza, speak to us at STIR in an exclusive interview. The exhibition is on view until January 23, 2022.
In the way of introducing us to her practice, Barker takes us back to her early days, the moments when she first came face to face with the looming issue of plastic waste. She tells us, “I grew up in Hull, a port on the East coast of England. Growing up there as a child I spent a lot of time walking the beaches, collecting natural objects such as stones and driftwood. Over time I began to notice more and more man-made waste was washing up onto the shore of a local nature reserve inhabited by deer, seals and rare birds… At the same time, I was studying for my Masters Degree in Photography and I realised that I could use photography to inform and educate about the issue. Perhaps people who didn’t live near to the sea and didn’t know what was going on. I was inspired by scientific research surrounding marine plastic and I began to contact scientists to ask questions. This then led on to my work reflecting their research, and in turn has led me to be able to speak about both.”
The sheer scale of the issue propelled Barker to take tangible steps toward raising awareness, supported by scientific evidence. The artist elucidates the relevance of both perspectives saying, “Science is not subjective as it is factual and has no room for aesthetics or emotion, so the work of an artist and a scientist are opposed in approach, but in some ways are seeking to achieve the same outcome. In this way my work can help to give science a visual voice whilst hopefully connecting with the viewer’s social conscience.”
The photographer utilises motif-like images extracted from her photographs of found waste, and manipulates them into abstract compositions to engage the eye. This creates a visually mysterious image, unravelled and revealed slowly upon close inspection. The process of viewing the image becomes one with several steps - looking, analysing, curious inspection and behold - recognition, and the slow onset of shock. The gradual approach to viewer engagement enables the photograph to create a lasting impression. She elaborates further, “It is intended that this contradiction between beauty and information combine to make people question, for example, how their food packets, computers, or shoe ended up in the middle of the ocean. I believe art can be a powerful form of communication in providing a visual message when sometimes over-complicated statistics or articles are difficult to understand. I believe art can change people. It can also transcend the barrier of language. If at best my work can educate people to change their habits, and lead them to positive action in tackling this increasing environmental problem - or at the very least cause people to think, then I will have achieved my aim.” The artist’s work is a call to higher awareness, mindfulness in our consumption, and better design with zero waste left behind. As someone who likes to believe that I am a conscious consumer myself, I am constantly reminded that in nature there is no waste. It is a design flaw constructed by man’s linear mind. In nature, there is no waste - only a circular cycle of life.
The exhibition at Sunaparanta in Goa is of particular importance as Goa is a magnet for tourists from across the world who (largely) visit the beautiful coastal state to enjoy the nightlife and other tourist activities. The state of Goa is a victim to precisely the type of wasteful carelessness encapsulated in Barker’s work. As the local community struggles to emphasise conscious and slow tourism and keep up with the influx of travellers, the natural environment is faced with the brunt of our thoughtless action. An exhibition of this nature is a step towards not just raising awareness, but also targeting the audience in most need of education. D’Souza tells STIR, “Over the past few years, at Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts, our work has been dedicated towards generating a laboratory of ideas that address questions concerning sustainability, ecology with greater urgency. For years, our patron and Programs Advisor Isheta Salgaocar has been captivated by Mandy Barker’s work and relentless mission to bring awareness to a detrimental environmental issue. In Goa, as we are intimately connected to the sea and now vulnerable to chemical contamination, plastic pollution and other threats,” she felt that “Mandy’s research could provide invaluable insights to our audiences on how we may contribute to a more conscious and sustainable world.”