When Doris Florig was snorkeling in the Caribbean recently, she emerged from the turquoise waters near Belize crestfallen.
“I came up and a woman in a dinghy next to me looked at me and said, ‘Wasn’t that beautiful?’ And I thought, no, it wasn’t. It was really depressing.”
What the woman saw were “some beautiful pieces,” Florig said. But what Florig saw in addition to those pieces was “a graveyard.”
Florig has seen massive changes to that reef. She spends her winters sailing in the Caribbean and has done so for the last several decades. Throughout that time, Florig has watched the reef die.
So the local fiber artist decided to do something about it. Today she will premiere her traveling exhibit, Save the Reef. It features textile work from 35 artists from around the globe. The pieces are at once lovely and alarming: wise old sea turtles caught in plastic; stingrays ensnared in six-pack holders.
Incorporating garbage that is increasingly taking over the oceans made Florig shutter.
She and the artists she worked with are “used to making beautiful art,” she said. “To add trash to our art is very difficult.”
But it’s not all trashy. There are also underwater scenes that remind us how nature intended the oceans. Those pieces are animated by vibrant marine life and vegetation.
As the Smithsonian Magazine notes, “coral reefs are the rainforests of the sea. As the most diverse marine ecosystem, reefs are home to thousands of plant and animal species. They also protect coastal land from erosion and damage associated with storms.”
In addition to disruption from coastline development and pollution, coral reefs are under increasing threats today due to climate change.
The National Ocean Service explains that as water temperatures rise, mass coral bleaching events and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent. In addition to that, carbon dioxide absorbed into the ocean from the atmosphere has already begun to alter ocean PH levels. When those levels are out of whack, it upsets all the organisms that call the ocean home.
Save the Reef marks a sharp departure in Florig’s career. It is the first time she finds herself collaborating with other artists, a welcome change from the lonely work and long hours that weaving demands. The exhibit also represents another shift for the longtime tapestry weaver. It is the first time Florig is using her art as a form of activism. As someone who grew up during the Vietnam War era, she said it feels good to revive her civic engagement today through her art.
Save the Reef opens 5:30 to 7 pm tonight at Center for the Arts. The work will be on display until October 30 when it makes its way to Florida.