Early in November 2023, a lineup of eleven local and three international artists spread across various parts of Cape Town to ‘make their mark to protect the oceans’. The edition of the Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans public art project, the first in Africa, saw 14 murals painted on walls of buildings across Cape Town in an effort to address pressing environmental issues facing our seas.
Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans, presented by global nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation and philanthropic organisation Save Our Seas Foundation, is a public art programme that has taken place across the globe, in the Bahamas, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, Indonesia and the Virgin Islands. As the CEO of the Save Our Seas Foundation James Lea noted, ‘Striking art can connect with people in a way that science often struggles with.’
According to the Sea Walls team, Cape Town was selected as a prime location for a Sea Walls project ‘due to its magnificent coastline, ongoing efforts to promote ocean conservation, and unique history’. South Africa’s coastline is home to a diverse range of marine life and habitats, but it also faces significant challenges from pollution, overfishing, mining and climate change, which threaten the health and wellbeing of marine ecosystems.
The ever-growing list of murals already completed across the world were expanded on by local artists Amy Lee Tak, Aweh Migo, Breeze Yoko, Care One, DBongz, Dirty Native Njabulo Hlophe, Marie-Louise Koen, Marti Lund, Motel Seven, Sonny Behan and Stefan Smit in locations such as Gardens, Sea Point, Camps Bay, Kalk Bay, Newlands, Muizenberg, the Cape Town CBD and Salt River.
The international artists were Spaniard Antonio Segura, aka DULK, who is famous for his surreal depictions of endangered animals; Germany illustrator Yeye Weller; and Si Omar aka Cracked Ink, a British street artist known for his character-based monochromatic creations.
Each mural draws on locally relevant features, issues, challenges and historical legacies, paying homage to both the area in which it is located and the ocean at large. For example, the Newlands mural by DBongz, on the wall of the South African National Deaf Association, features a young child armed with buckets and tools to collect ocean plastics who is using sign language to signal his intent to protect endangered species whose natural habitats are being destroyed by humans.
According to the project manager for Sea Walls: South Africa, Shani Judes, the murals have a lifespan of up to seven years, during which they will serve as a reminder of the constant work being done to clean and protect South Africa’s oceans.