By Christina Whiting
On April 22, seven banners will flutter from the masts of seven boats in the Homer harbor. One of these banners is an ecology flag that flew on the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior in the 1970s. The other banners were created by Homer artist-naturalist Mavis Muller 25 years ago, in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
“This is not a protest, but an exhibition,” Muller said. “Getting these banners onto working boats is a statement that we are still fighting for the protection of our waters and ultimately – our home.”
Muller is calling this exhibition “Unfurled.”
The banners are made from pieces of typar that came from the homemade oil containment boom that community members made to boom off Mud Bay. Each banner is painted with a different theme, representing Alaska communities that were affected by the oil spill, including Homer, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Cordova and Seldovia. There were originally two additional flags, one for Kodiak and one for Valdez, but the Kodiak flag went missing and the Valdez flag was confiscated.
Muller created the banners in response to community member’s feelings of isolation from the rest of the United States.
“There came a time that it seemed like this catastrophe became yesterday’s news in the Lower 48,” she said. “Here we were, still in the thick of it, still feeling like we were in a war zone, and yet we were separate.”
Muller harnessed her creativity and retrieved pieces of typar from the tanker as it was being towed to Coronado Island in San Diego, Calif. Her idea was to use the opportunity, as the tanker arrived into California, to draw media attention to the continued plight of Alaska communities suffering from the devastation of the spill.
Muller made a banner for the seven communities and sent them out to those communities. She also sent one to San Diego. When the tanker arrived into California, community members joined Muller in hanging their banners at the same time. Afterward, Muller took the banners to rallies and demonstrations, drawing attention to the continued plight in Alaska.
On the one-year anniversary of the oil spill, Muller hung the banners on boats in San Diego bay, with the Exxon Valdez as the backdrop. They were joined by members from California communities who had made their own banners to show solidarity.
“There was a rally with a press boat and a boat procession and the banners were appearing in photographs in newspapers all over the United States,” Muller said. “The banners became an iconic voice of the Exxon Valdez oil spill catastrophe, drawing communities together.”
When a gallery in New York City put a call out for art for an exhibit on climate change, Muller applied and was accepted to include her title piece banner “Alaskans Still Fighting for the Earth.” From New York City, the banner traveled to art museums in communities around the world who have suffered their own oil spills, including Australia and Spain.
“Today, on the 25-year anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, I see that our story is still relevant and that this art is standing the test of time and continues to educate and inspire communities to use art as communication,” Muller said. “It seemed important that the flags be brought out now, that they be unfurled once again.”
The banners will hang on boats in the harbor for one day, where they will be photographed and documented. Boat owners will have the opportunity to share what the banners mean to them.
On Good Friday, April 18, between 6-7:30 p.m., one of the banners will be unveiled at the Pratt Museum, where Muller will present “Remembering – Community Art as a Healing Force,” where she will talk about the continuing story of these banners.
On April 22, the banners will be displayed on boats in the Homer Harbor.
On Earth Day, April 26, the banners will be unfurled during the Earth Day Festival at Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. They will be displayed and photographed around 4 p.m. on Bishop’s Beach, weather permitting, or near the Islands and Ocean building, if weather is inclement.
Following the unfurling, Muller will present a slideshow talk “Small World – Community Art as a Healing Force” (part two), where she will share the story of the banner convergence in San Diego and discuss her recent Burning Basket event in the Gulf of Mexico.
For Muller, unfurling these banners at this time shares two stories: the revival of these iconic banners and the use of art to connect communities.
“It’s a sad testimony in ways, that their messages are still relevant and current 25 years later, but also a reminder that we will not give up the fight, that we are galvanized in our commitment and connected as Alaskan communities, and as a small world,” she said.
Muller is currently looking for volunteers to help hang banners on boats on April 22 around noon. Call her at (907) 299-1478.
Learn more at www.mavismullerart.com and www.facebook.com/BurningBasketProject.
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