Our Island – Art and Conservation on Stewart Island/Rakiura

Elsie Percival talks about her recent exhibition and workshop on Stewart Island celebrating art and conservation.

By Elsie Percival

Stewart Island, Elsie Percival, 2015, watercolour on paper

Stewart Island, Elsie Percival, 2015, watercolour on paper

Vibrant hues of turquoise, yellow and red were smeared onto printing plates depicting kiwis, tracking cards and possum traps during the conservation art workshop held on Rakiura. Members of the community showed up to express their feelings about local conservation through the medium of art. Whether it was the memory of a moment with an animal, the passion for a predator-free Rakiura, the coordinates of monitored rat traplines, or an expression of love for the Stewart Island environment–each participant had the opportunity to tell a story through their work.

An exhibition was held the following week to showcase the work of the community, as well as a collection of pieces that I had produced. This exhibition was titled Our Island, and it told the story of the unique environment and wildlife of Stewart Island/Rakiura and the conservation work that is helping to protect it.

The community taking in the work made by the community and mounted by artist Lynn Taylor.

The community taking in the work made by the community and mounted by artist Lynn Taylor.

Locals busy at work making their prints with Lynn Taylor guiding the process.

Locals busy at work making their prints with Lynn Taylor guiding the process.

This printmaking workshop and exhibition was facilitated by the Dunedin-based Sandpit team:

Lynn Taylor–Artist extraordinaire who works primarily in printmaking;

Jenny Rock–Artist, Scientist and Lecturer at the Centre for Science Communication;

Lydia Mclean–Antarctic Science Communicator and Outdoor Adventurer;

Ellen Sima–Community Biodiversity Leader and Museum Curator

and Elsie Percival (me)–Conservation Communicator and artist who is heading to the Antipodes next year with the media team

I prepared a pop-up space for my work using the Sandpit–a portable exhibition space designed for communities to share ideas by displaying creative works. This part of the exhibition posed the question ‘what are we fighting for?’ and moved through an artistic journey of how we go about protecting our wildlife from harm. What is the problem? What methods do we use? And what happens if we don’t try?

The two components–my work, and the community’s–complemented each other to illustrate the dynamism and complexities of conservation on Rakiura, the passion that people share, and the rich native environment that is actively managed in an effort to protect it.

Face Painting gives kids the opportunity to forge a bond with their favourite Stewart Island animals. Photo by Lynn Taylor

Face Painting gives kids the opportunity to forge a bond with their favourite Stewart Island animals. Photo by Lynn Taylor

A local inspects the work made by members of the community. Photo by Lynn Taylor

A local inspects the work made by members of the community. Photo by Lynn Taylor

The Island is already incredibly active when it comes to conservation–with an array of efforts based around three main initiatives:

  1. SIRCET (The Stewart Island Rakiura Community Environment Trust)–a local conservation group, run primarily by volunteers, that carries out predator control in the township, replanting, and monitoring of wildlife.
  1. DOC (the Department of Conservation)–that carries out trapping and monitoring throughout Rakiura National Park (90% of the island), and works to inspire visitors and the community with conservation.
  1. Ulva Island–the lively predator-free island that was eradicated of rats 20 years ago, and requires ongoing monitoring for invading rats, as well research into the healthy populations of resident birds.

Although conservation efforts are strong on Rakiura, wildlife numbers continue to decline. Most island residents support the idea of a predator-free Rakiura. However, the methods necessary to get to this point are tricky and complex (just like Antipodes but bigger, with complex ecosystems, and people!). The prospect of a predator-island is not a not a black and white situation. For this week, the emotive, talkative and introspective powers of art have given the community a chance to illustrate this challenge in a different light and celebrate what they are fighting for.

Kaka, Elsie Percival, 2015, Water colour on paper

Kaka, Elsie Percival, 2015, Water colour on paper

Holes in the Forest, an artwork by Elsie Percival encourages people to think about what Stewart Island would be like without its wildlife

Holes in the Forest, an artwork by Elsie Percival encourages people to think about what Stewart Island would be like without its wildlife

Transformation, Elsie Percival, 2015, watercolour on paper: this artwork symbolises the transformation that the forest could take if introduced predators continue to sustain, and increase, in population on Stewart Island.

Transformation, Elsie Percival, 2015, watercolour on paper: this artwork symbolises the transformation that the forest could take if introduced predators continue to sustain, and increase, in population on Stewart Island.