Gwen Arkin's Photography Projects
Artists of Hawaiʻi NOW

My work addresses the depletion of native seaweeds (limu) in Hawai‘i and its relation to climate change and global warming.Historically, Hawaiians have a deep connection to marine plants; in traditional life limu has long been used for food, in ceremony, and in healing. Once an abundant resource in Hawai‘i, much of the limu has disappeared due to over-harvesting, warming ocean temperatures, aggressive alien seaweeds, and polluted runoff. These often overlooked organisms play a key role in the health of our global ecosystem, as it is estimated that all algae, including phytoplankton, are jointly responsible for producing 90 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere and up to 80 percent of the organic matter on earth. And, because algae can absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and utilize sunlight more efficiently than terrestrial plants, algae plays a significant role in combating global warming and ocean acidification.

The hanging blue textiles represent the intertidal/subtidal region of the ocean — an ecosystem so diverse and complex, it is considered one of the most productive on the planet. The panels display in microscopic detail the otherworldly forms found here, revealing its minute cellular make-up, much of it unseen to the human eye.

My response to these disappearing organisms is to create records of their existence and to raise questions about their historical, cultural, and ecological significance. I hope to inspire fresh perspectives, awareness, and engagement with these humble ocean life forms, while reminding the viewer that beauty beckons from even the most remote and unseen corners of our planet.

This project pays homage to two women pioneers, Dr. Isabella Abbott, the first native Hawaiian woman to receive a PhD in science, and leading expert on Pacific marine algae, and Anna Atkins, a British Botanist who, in the mid-1800s, used the newly discovered cyanotype process to record her algae specimens, and is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. Additionally, it pays tribute to the amazing grassroots organizations dedicated to restoring Hawai‘î’s coastal ecosystems.

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