A young mother bathes her children in it every night. Lydia Delgado, my favorite watercolor artist, uses it to create layers of colorful florals with masterful brushstrokes.
When it falls onto the tongue of a young boy’s open mouth, he smiles joyfully as it melts. But when untamed, it frightens a mother who watches it rise with the fear she feels for her family’s safety. This is the power of water. In its many forms, it sustains us and threatens us, but we are lost without it. Artists from around the world remind us of water’s life-giving qualities and the divine role of women in relation to it.
Water has always been a symbol of life and strength. In Ghanaian culture, women are purveyors of water. They travel miles to bring water to their homes, carrying heavy jars of it on their heads. On the west coast of Africa in northern Ghana, most homes do not have running water. Women go to boreholes (like these women walking to wells) or lakes so they have enough water to drink and use for household chores like cooking and bathing.
But during the dry season, water from most lakes has disappeared and any that does exist is contaminated. Because it is so desperately needed, women spend a large part of their day, time and energy retrieving it.
Lately, shortages are also an issue for India, a country experiencing its worst water crisis in 40 years. The riverbeds in the south have run dry for many of reasons, including over-exploited groundwater to unplanned urbanization. But an organization called the Art of Living Water Projects is working to help empower women by providing better knowledge and ways to help them.
Community training sessions and other related program initiatives in India teach women how to partner with governments to build canals and rejuvenate riverbeds. The focus is on strengthening youth and women leadership in India so women can take charge of their circumstances and prevent younger girls from missing school to fetch water. For more information or to consider donating, please visit their website.
Helping women rise above threatening waters is literally the work of one artist, Sean Yoro aka Hula. I saw his work a few years ago in StreetArtNews.net. This online publication by Rom Levy promotes underground artists. His series, Women Rise Up From the Water, was created to draw attention to social problems like ugly abandoned buildings in Hawaii and the melting polar caps (see the cover photo).
Sean is a NYC-based artist who grabbed his surfboard and acrylic paints to produce stunning paintings of women. He understands the powerful significance of using women as the central theme in his graphics. They are the givers of life, as mothers and providers of family. So when Sean’s women sink into the melted ice caps or disappear from the old building lots, he shows the resulting imbalance. Scientists suggest the violent cycle of earth’s storms will likely increase.
Sean’s female-centered posters have a sense of urgency about rising sea levels, climate change and beautification. But using images of women in art is nothing new. Mother Earth Laid Bare, a 1936 painting by Alexander Hogue, uses barren plots of land in the shape of a woman to show the suffering of Mother Nature. The photo – on display in the Art Institute of Chicago a few years back – sits next to other works by realist painters like Edward Hopper, and shows how defenseless we are against drought, winds and eroding soil.
The severity of mother nature’s power is certainly underscored by the recent events of Hurricane Harvey in the United States. Hurricanes wreak havoc as millions of people in Houston and other parts of Texas recently experienced. Harvey has forced tens of thousands of people into emergency shelters, hoping they’ll be able to salvage some of their belongings as emergency personnel and government workers prepare for years of cleanup and economic recovery.
Destructive storms like Harvey will always loom over us, like the Bhola cyclone that struck East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and India’s West Bengal region on November 12th, 1970. More than half a million people lost their lives in what was one of the deadliest natural disasters of all time. People are helpless in the face of powerful storm or even tides of water like those in the Bay of Fundy.
The tides are the highest in the world, reaching up to a five story building, and the reversing tide section of Fundy Bay (see the photo below) claimed the lives of 19 people in a mass 1837 tragedy when 25 members of several families went berry picking. I saw the powerful evidence of eroding soil and rock along the cliffs of the bay, where tourists can walk among sea caves during low tide, before the high waters come in and flood the entire area. It is a solemn reminder of water’s power.
Over the years, we have learned to harness the power of water for a huge variety of needs from hydro-electricity to stately fountains and water parks.Whether water is used by Indians who bathe in the Ganges or Arabs in the Middle East who depend on the desalination of water for its vital life properties, water is to be cherished and revered. The earth is roughly two-thirds water but “by 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and 2/3 of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.”
As we celebrate Labor Day in North America over the September holiday weekend, I am reminded of the many women and men who have labored to service our communities, and emergency personnel who have dedicated their lives to helping those threatened by water.
This labor of love is also reflected in the artists of our time, who inspire us to higher standards and loftier goals for ourselves and each other. Artists like Arica Hilton remind us that nature is a gift and water is a powerful friend. In her one of her latest series, Multiverse, Arica prompts us to consider water conservation within the larger context of sustainable living. Her use of recycled and crushed plastic water bottles within the rich canvases of color, texture and design, help us to see and embrace water’s ubiquitous and free-flowing form.
I encourage readers to learn more about Arica by visiting WomanScape’s The Artist Who Lights Up the Sky, or to enjoy her work online at Hilton Asmus or at Artsy.net. Arica is a visionary living and working in the heart of Chicago’s art district and part of her philosophy for life, written below, inspires us to be our best selves.
I believe in free will, that we can choose our path the way we want to design it.
I believe in the power of vision, perhaps that’s why I am an artist.