Fearless. Global. Driven. But you would not guess it if you saw her; Arica Hilton speaks softly, smiles often. A delicate fragrance hangs around her petite frame. In the summer, she wears pastel dresses.

She flows, like water. She is a force, like water. “Water is the essence of life.” This Mediterranean born artist, gallerist, curator, and poet has devoted herself to capturing the beauty of this element, the most valuable on earth. Her work is layers, depth, limpidity. It is also a message: recycled bits of micro-plastic infuse the fairy-tale colors, highlighting the very real human impact on water and its consequences for the planet.

Arica has just returned from an expedition to the Raja Ampat archipelago in Indonesia. ELYSIUM, sponsored by Ocean Geographic Magazine, brought world-famous artists, photographers, scientists, musicians, and writers together to document the ecosystem’s rich biodiversity and highlight the disastrous effects of unsustainable fishing practices, over-exploitation, and climate change.

Arica took pictures, made videos and paintings. Now back in her Chicago atelier, her art tells of a love story with water and calls the world to save its ending.

Raja Ampat, the heart of the Coral Triangle on the northwestern West Papua, New Guinea, is considered the most biodiverse area in the world.  It is called the “species factory” because it contains more species of fishes and corals than anywhere else.

To reach it, Arica and the team embarked on a sea voyage from Ambon, the capital city of the Moluccas, once known as the Spice Islands. From there, they sailed through the Banda Islands between the Banda and Seram Seas, then on to Sorong, on the island of New Guinea, in the heart of the Coral Triangle.

Initially, Arica dove the waters of the more populous areas of Raja Ampat, Ambon, no longer gorgeous beaches littered with plastic debris. But because of its protected status, the waters and beaches of the islands in the Banda and Seram Seas were preserved because of its protected status, such as the islands of Kuun, Misool, Banda Naira and  Banda Run, the nutmeg island for which the Dutch traded the English … the island of Manhattan! The contrast was striking; from man’s heartbreaking pollution to nature’s most breathtaking coral reefs.

Even as she painted this magical underwater world, Arica knew it was threatened; extreme plastic pollution was and is not far, and it does not go away. Illegal shark fishing also takes place in the Raja Ampat waters, as well as illegal trading of sea turtles, tortoises and Mantas.

All this, she observed and turned into art that she brought back to Chicago. It will be shown, alongside the works of other artists and photographers, in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenzhen, at the end of April 2019.

“If we can inform and educate people, and convince them to modify their harmful behaviors, that would be a great step toward protecting the co-inhabitants of our earth.”

This message – the interconnectedness of humanity and nature – graceful Arica conveys loud and powerfully with her work. She believes it deeply; the earth has always been at the forefront of her art, a calling that found her when she began searching for her roots.

“I wanted to know where I came from. […]  I learned that the elements in our bloodstream are the same elements that comprise a star. That we are nothing more than these elements that exist in every part of the universe: planets, moons, interstellar clouds, a tree, a flower, a blade of grass.”

That every form of life has value, however evolved, or less so, it might be; half of the oxygen in our lungs comes from phytoplankton photosynthesis in the seas. The other half comes from trees, plants and grasses. Without both, humans cannot live.

“If I know that I am connected to every single living, breathing creature, tree or plant, it gives my life meaning.”

She had found her calling:

Sawandarek Jetty Filming Arica painting underwater as she deep dives!

“I needed to create something of value, not only to myself, but to others around me. To share my knowledge, my experience, my understanding of what it means to be a human being. To be a magician of my own reality and by doing that, to inspire others.”

Arica is an inspiring lady: a scuba-diving artist who, fifteen years ago, decided to learn how to swim to take part in her first triathlon. Who pushed herself to face towering eight-foot waves, surrendering to them, flowing with the water, till she came up on the other side of her fear. Look at Arica now.

I learned that I can overcome any fear I have just by choosing to.”

Like boarding a boat full of veteran divers, fighting motion sickness, learning to paint underwater, all to capture the importance of such a place that is part of the history of the world.

The beauty of our earth. The abundance of life that resides underwater. So many species of animals that may disappear because of our negligence to keep our earth clean. That includes our oceans. They are our source of life. If they die, we die,”

says Arica. Her message resounds in every painting, every video, every masterful photograph.

Discover Arica’s art for Elysium and her previous exhibitions by visiting her official website: https://www.aricahilton.com/

Yara Zgheib

Author Yara Zgheib

Yara is a writer, policy researcher and analyst, and lover of culture, travel, nature, art. She is the author of The Girls at 17 Swann Street and blogger behind Aristotle at Afternoon Tea. She has written for The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, The Idea List, A Woman’s Paris, and Holiday Magazine.

More posts by Yara Zgheib

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