Entanglement: A Community Art Approach to Environmental Education

Date

2023-05

Authors

Mantell, Sydney

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Abstract

Entanglement was first defined in 1997 by David W. Laist, marine mammal expert and policy analyst, as the ways in which loops and openings of marine debris may entrap an animal. Entanglement has documented effects on 354 distinct species and hundreds of thousands of animals die each year. Still, plastic production continues to increase, and most solutions are short-term and focus on disentangling the small fraction of entangled animals we can see. But entanglement is connected to more aspects of our existence than the material threat to marine species. In the field of quantum mechanics, two particles are entangled when the state of one is dependent on the other, regardless of how far apart they are. Even if we are separated from our oceans geographically our lives depend on them. The more my Project progressed, reflecting on entanglement, the more elaborate the meaning of the term became. This complexity is inherent – entanglement is “a means of entangling; that by which a person or thing is entangled; an embarrassment, a snare; a circumstance which complicates or confuses a matter.” My Project aimed to explore these definitions, along with the ways in which our identities are entangled with our daily lives and professions. The academic sciences are especially in need of the practice, as researchers may attempt to remain objective, a characteristic of white supremacy.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a fellow Black, Queer woman who knows about entanglement. Her book Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (2021), changed my perspective on my role as a marine scientist. I should not be learning about marine species. Instead, I should be learning from them. Reading Undrowned’s meditations on themes such as slowing down, collaborating, refusing, resting, and staying Black gave me space to reflect on how I could use art as a form of Community-Based Environmental Management (CBEM). Within my graduate studies, there were few opportunities for creative engagement like the critical work that Gumbs practices. To me, environmental management should make connections between the social and natural sciences, arts, policy, humanities, and non-western schools of thought instead of relying on one or two. To address this gap, I formulated two main objectives for my MP: To intentionally create spaces for artistic expression in my community, and 2) To collaboratively communicate the concept of entanglement through artwork. I hypothesized that if I could create these spaces for collaborative artmaking and share those works with others, then people may be inspired to continue creating and reflecting on entanglement. Part of my methodology for my MP involves my own creative practice of fluid painting, a technique I learned alongside my mother Susan. The method involves thinning down acrylic paints then layering all the colors into one cup. Then the paint is plopped, drizzled, or poured onto a canvas, creating unpredictable pieces of art. Just as I had to accept and appreciate the fluidity of my paintings, I had to do the same with my Project as it evolved over the school year. I welcomed the serendipitous connections that informed how I would accomplish my objectives, like my reintroduction to the practice of zinemaking in my Critical Marine Studies class. Zines, pronounced like “teens,” are interdisciplinary, non-professional, and non-commercial publications that often uplift marginalized voices that are undervalued by mainstream media. With roots in Black feminism and anti-establishment movements of the 1960s and 1970s, zines were used by activists to spark collective action and call attention to issues of environmental injustice. As I learned more about the history and culture associated with zines, I saw the potential in creating a zine for my Project to foster creativity, share perspectives, and reckon with entanglement. But my project is more about the process, the “means of entangling,” than it is about any final deliverable. Entanglement: A Community Art Approach to Education is two-part project, as I developed and hosted Community Co-Creation Events and compiled the attendees’ artwork along with other independent submissions into Entanglement: A Co-Created Community Zine. The Community Co-Creation Events brought people together to make art, challenge our ways of thinking, strengthen interpersonal connections, and meditate on entanglement. For example, in “Doodle & Discuss: Crafting Against Capitalism,” participants paired doodle artmaking with a guided reading discussion of Gumbs’s “end capitalism” meditation that explicitly discusses the threat of marine entanglement to the North Atlantic right whale. While the “products” of the event, the doodles, are included in my zine, the significance of having that space for reflection cannot be fully encapsulated on a page. The Entanglement zine contained submissions from over 30 contributors making more than 20 distinct types of media. I plan to continue the recursive process of zinemaking, creating and adding new pieces to the online blog where the zine will be hosted. Other artists have committed to continue creating and reflecting, as well. For example, my mother, Susan, who has made over 140 collages since my “Collaging & Connecting” Community Co-Creation event in November to the publication of this Report in April. Throughout my MP, I was able to consider our entanglements to oppressive systems, our identities, our communities, and the nonhuman world by collaborating with others. In conclusion, Entanglement: A Community Art Approach to Environmental Education demonstrates ways in which artmaking can build community and encourage deep, recursive learning.

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Mantell, Sydney (2023). Entanglement: A Community Art Approach to Environmental Education. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27245.


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.