Saving Whales and Dolphins through Petroglyphs and Activist Artworks

Article excerpt

Students learn how to use art to educate others and stand up for a cause.

Whaling emerged in ancient times, when whales served as a source of food, fuel, and other everyday resources that were vital for human civilizations (Busch, 1998). Prehistoric images of whales are found on rocks in a few areas throughout the world (Slijper, 1962), most notably the famous petroglyphs at the Bangudae cliffs in Ulsan, South Korea, which depict whales and other animals (Lim, 1999). These petroglyphs suggest that ancient people hunted sea mammals for survival and regarded whales as an object of worship ("Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs," 2010). Petroglyphs such as those at Bangudae are drawings made on stone. Typically unpainted (Arnold, 1996), they are regarded as one of the oldest art forms in the world (Heyd & Clegg, 2005).

In more recent times, people have hunted whales and dolphins for wealth rather than survival, so much that whales have become an endangered species (Russell, 2001). Indeed, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986 (Russell, 1999), yet over 1,000 whales are still killed each year under the guise of scientific research or through loopholes in the laws ("End commercial whaling," 2010).

Furthermore, Japan, Iceland, and other allies have proposed that whaling be legally resumed due to rebounding whale populations, though their efforts clearly are guided by potential financial gain ("Japan determined to resume commercial whaling," 2011; Stevens & Pesmen, 2009). This Instructional Resource enables students to examine and interpret various endeavors by artist activists who seek to lead individuals to deeper environmental understandings in the interest of constructing a better world (Beyerbach, 2011). It encourages students to perceive that animals like whales and dolphins do not exist solely for human use and consumption, but that they play their own important role in the ecosystems on which humans depend for survival (Bekoff, 2010). After exploring the Bangudae petroglyphs, the Origami Whales Project (OWP) of an activist artist Oki, a photo of an anti-whaling protest, and a film about dolphins, students will produce and exhibit their own artworks and critical commentary on animals, other species, and the environment.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

* acquire and examine information about whales and dolphins and their place in ecosystems of the world;

* learn about historical and cultural perspectives on whales and dolphins through an examination of the petroglyphs of Bangudae, Oki s installations, a photo of an anti-whaling protest, and the film The Cove;

* deconstruct and evaluate how artist activists use artworks and other practices to express their sense of social and environmental responsibility; and

* create and exhibit artworks that embrace themes of animal abuse or animal and human rights, or express their personal viewpoints about the treatment by humans of other species or the environment.

The Petroglyphs of Bangudae

Figure 1 depicts images from the petroglyphs of Bangudae, which were designated as a Korean National Treasure on June 23,1995 (Lim, 1999). The analysis of animal material gathered from shell mounds in the area indicates that the petroglyphs were created between the Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age. The petroglyphs represent four major types of figures: sea animals (including whales); land animals; humans and faces; and fishing/hunting equipment such as boats, spears, floats, and nets. These are more clearly represented in Figure 2, in which colors were digitally applied to the lines and images. Scientists have discovered approximately 290 examples of petroglyphs on the Bangudae cliffs, which are adjacent to the Daegok stream, a tributary of the Taehwa River that is close to Gangsaeng-po harbor in the East Sea, an area known for decades for its whaling industry, discontinued only in 1986.

The depictions of sea and land animals and hunting and whaling scenes realistically portray the ecology and living conditions at the time when the petroglyphs were created. …