Like Much of the Arctic in 2016, These Ice Murals Melted Away
An Inuit woman’s portrait on vanishing sea ice is a powerful metaphor for climate change’s cultural toll.
The image of a solitary polar bear stranded on a melting ice floe is the unofficial poster child of the climate movement. But the world’s climbing temperatures are threatening more than charismatic megafauna; people’s lives and cultural heritage are at risk, too. With his portraits, artist Sean Yoro is helping to put a human face on the climate change issue.
Yoro, aka “Hula,” grew up in Oahu, Hawaii. Now based in New York City, he honors his childhood love of the ocean with a unique approach to “street art,” painting semi-submerged murals on walls, shipwrecks, and abandoned docks while perched atop a stand-up paddleboard. His latest canvas of choice? Sea ice.
Some of Yoro’s recent projects have taken him to the front lines of global warming, where his portraits that disappear in response to environmental changes are a powerful metaphor for climate change. The murals, rendered in nontoxic paints made from natural pigments and linseed or safflower oil, are transient by design.
Yoro traveled to northern Iceland in November 2015 to paint a woman’s likeness on icebergs from a melting glacier. Last summer, he teamed up with apparel company The North Face to complete a portrait in the Arctic waters of Baffin Island, Nunavut.
His timing couldn’t have been better. Temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at double the rate of the rest of the globe—in November, for instance, the mercury rose more than 36 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recently released Arctic Report Card for 2016 paints a grim picture of “persistent warming,” “loss of sea ice,” and “extensive Arctic changes.” The report calls for “more effective and timely communication of these scientific observations to diverse user audiences.”
Enter Yoro. To better understand how climate change is affecting the residents of Baffin Island and share their message with the world, the artist first cultivated a relationship with the area’s Inuit community. He spent time with local Jesse Mike, who ended up becoming the model for Yoro’s ice mural.
Mike told him: “For most people it’s about the polar bears, not about the people. Inuit want to make it about the people.”
Watch “What If You Fly,” a short video about Yoro’s trip to the Arctic, below.
This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.
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