Throughout human history, people have used art to elevate our passions and inspirations. Across the Pacific there is perhaps no greater form of inspiration than the ocean, which has both connected and provided for these island and coastal communities for centuries. To honor that, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, and the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project partnered to showcase the work of artists from New Caledonia and Oceania.
The Tù project – short for "Tù des baleines et des hommes pour la protection des océans" (whales and men to protect the ocean) – followed a year-long display at the Tjibaou centre in Nouméa, New Caledonia, with a nationwide tour that included stops in the Koné, Voh, and Deva regions in early 2018; overall, the tour drew over 11,000 visitors, including members of the government, scientists, representatives of customary areas, and community leaders. The project was inspired by SPREP's naming 2017 the "Pacific Year of the Whale" and by a need to raise awareness for better ocean protection in New Caledonia. The art emphasized the need for a large marine reserve within New Caledonia's Coral Sea Natural Park.
The 11 artists featured—who came from New Caledonia, Aotearoa-New Zealand, Niue, and Tonga—sought to share the story of humpback whales that migrate annually from their Antarctic feeding grounds to New Caledonia's warm waters to breed and calve their young. For communities on islands such as Ouen, which is south of New Caledonia's main island, the whales' return is welcome and signifies for the tribe the time to plant yams, a traditional tuber that is the centerpiece of the traditional Kanak culture.
Combining this artistic and cultural heritage—which are important parts of New Caledonian communities, especially among the Kanak people—pays tribute to the country and greater Pacific region and its oceanic legacy. Here are some of the pieces in the Tù project.
To learn more about the Tù project, visit Catalogue de l'exposition à telecharger (anglais).
Christophe Chevillon is a senior manager and Aline Schaffar is an officer with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project in New Caledonia.