What would it be like to live in the ocean?

Compassion for nature and self, and enjoyment of the underwater culture to bring out questions and discussions is what artist Paula Nishikawara hopes visitors will consider walking through her current exhibition at the Vancouver Maritime Museum titled, If I Lived in the Ocean.

Running until Oct. 24, Nishikawara’s exhibition is an immersive underwater experience right within the four walls of the exhibition room, demonstrating humanity’s footprints on the earth and her own personal relationship with the ocean.

While paying a visit, people will be able to engage with the vast array of mediums Nishikawara works with against the 60-year-old backdrop of the Maritime Museum, which stands to shed light on the age-old relationship between humans and the sea.

“I hope that people will be jolted, in a way, to be able to look differently at the ocean and our environment,” says Nishikawara. “I want them to think, ‘If this artist can have these ideas in her head to create this, what can each of us individually do to be helpful or different?’”

Harnessing the power of art for change

Local and global communities at large are facing some of the toughest environmental challenges in the history of our humanity. With every passing year, climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss exacerbate, negatively affecting the most vulnerable communities and setting off chain reactions that have the power to affect many biological systems.

Through her art, however, Nishikawara hopes to weave together a hopeful environmental message.

“Art has this ability to have people think differently,” she says. “Our lives have become so fast and so economically driven that we don’t ask these deeper questions anymore. We are now facing all these crises and realizing that maybe we do need to take the time to ask, ‘What would it be like if the ocean was my home?’”

Pondering such questions, the artist hopes to allow people to take away their own messages from the body of work.

Artistic influences

Immersive art installation titled Plastic kelp beds can grow up to one foot a day | Photo by Selin Oğuz

Nishikawara says her own artistic experiences and personal connection to nature continue to shape her creative body. In the exhibit, visitors can spot the artist’s ancestral connection with Japan, along with anecdotes regarding her experiences in Berlin, Germany and Lagos, Nigeria.

“Berlin is such an amazing place to go if you want to do anything in the art world,” she says. “I saw so much art and what is possible, which has in turn shaped how I create.”

One of the many different forms of art that Nishikawara employs is Gyotaku: a traditional Japanese art form developed in the mid 1800’s. Before a camera was available to document a fisherman’s catch at sea, Gyotaku was employed for record-keeping, which included some now-extinct species.

This Japanese art form is created by applying paint or ink on the body of a fish. Rice paper is then gently placed and rubbed on the inked-side to transfer an incredibly realistic image of it. The piece is complete with a hand-painted eye, background decorations, and artist signature signed with a seal or red chop made from stone.

Today, Nishikawara employs this technique to create beautiful images of sea creatures and incorporates them within her immersive and large-scale pieces that utilize a large variety of materials. The use of both natural and man-made materials, she says, highlights a polarity similar to that of the rhythm of life.

“The choosing of pieces for this exhibition was a really deep, reflective, introspective, creative process,” says Nishikawara. “In the end, I just hope we can try as human beings to have a little bit more empathy and compassion, not just for nature and for animals, but for ourselves, too.”

For more information please visit: www.vanmaritime.com