Mandy Barker’s camera zooms in on plastic and the pollution of our seas


As all roads lead to Goa this month, the British photographer is hoping her new show will draw our attention to her beach litter

British photographer Mandy Barker’s “Shelf-Life” features plastic waste collected on Henderson Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the South Pacific Ocean. It catches turtles that weave their way around a ton of plastic to get out to sea; birds removing plastic from their nests; and littering endemic flora with plastic bottles and single-use items in one of the world’s most remote and uninhabited places. Plastic waste from 25 countries, including 45 recognizable brands and logos, had traveled more than 5,000 kilometers to reach the shores of Henderson Island.

Shelf Life is one of 40 photographs on display at Barker’s first solo exhibition in India – Invasion of the Seas – at the Sunaparanta Goa Center for the Arts, Panaji, which opened on December 8. “It was really shocking,” recalls Barker, 57, who accompanied scientists on their trip to Henderson Island in 2019. “It was my personal experience to find plastic on my local shore that made me feel good. first disturbed, ”reveals Barker, who grew up in Hull, a port on the east coast of England. As a child, she collected natural objects like stones and driftwood while walking on the beach. But, over time, she saw more human-made waste.

Mandy barker

Barker has been on many scientific expeditions as she is asked to document plastic waste found in remote places. She believes her photos help talk about the problem and also reflect scientific research. “The work of an artist and a scientist are opposed in their approach, but somehow seek to achieve the same result,” she says. “My work can help give science a ‘visual voice’ while hopefully connecting with the social consciousness of the viewer.”

Over the past decade, she has accompanied many scientists in the most remote regions, from the Pacific to Japan. However, for her, the trip to Henderson Island was one of the most difficult, as they traveled seven days to get there – climbing coral cliffs, hauling heavy equipment through water from the sea. waist deep sea, walking in the jungle and sleeping in a cave. The waste then collected, whether it was fishing buoys, soccer balls and various other plastic objects, has now been used in his photographs to make a broader comment on marine plastic pollution.

Meanwhile in Goa

Plastic pollution is a real problem in Goa where this exhibition is held, during the tourist season. According to a 2017 report from the Kochi-based Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Goa’s 100-kilometer coastline generates 41 kilograms of beach litter per capita, the highest in the country. Each square meter of beach sand contains 25.5g of plastic waste.

Rising litter

  • A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) indicates that plastic currently accounts for at least 85% of all marine litter. It is estimated that by 2040, that would be around 50 kilograms of plastic per meter of global coastline if no urgent action is taken.

After studying the coast of Goa for nearly a decade, Puja Mitra from conservation firm Terra Conscious provides an update. “In Goa, beach cleaning does not extend to river mouths. A cabin or a small hotel is not connected to suppliers to replace their single-use plastic, ”she said. “The state government has not instituted an award to recognize companies that have taken eco-responsible measures. Due to the scale of the problem and the individual action, we also need a structured intervention. “

Art made from beach debris by Tamsin Noronha

Art made from beach debris by Tamsin Noronha

Creating art from marine litter has now become an art form. Goa-based artist Tamsin Noronha uses beach debris in his art. Some of his works will be part of the exhibition along with that of Barker. She thought of this form of artistic expression by volunteering for local beach clean-up campaigns.

“I now create framed artwork for sale with all kinds of items found on my local beach (Dona Paula),” says Noronha, who plans to start conversations about waste management and sustainability using her art. Barker believes that if the visual arts like photography can help people notice, “surely it must be a vital part of stimulating debate and ultimately action.”

(The exhibition is until January 23, 2022)


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