The Sik Plastik long Solwata exhibition features various artworks from 30 local and visiting artists, school children and community organisations to highlight the critical impact of plastic pollution to Vanuatu’s oceans and marine life. Located at Fondation Suzanne Bastien Art Gallery in Pango, the exhibition is free to the public and runs until November 26th.

One of the artworks includes a series of photo stories submitted by Solwata Sista, the Vanuatu Surfing Association’s women’s development program. Since its establishment in July, Solwata Sista has been using surfing as a conduit to provide educational activities and workshops to build personal and professional skills.

The photo stories are the end result of a collaboration between Arlene from Arlene Bax Photography and Solwata Sista. Arlene ran a photography workshop to teach young female surfers, ranging in age from eight to their early twenties, how to use a camera and how to portray a story using photography.

The workshop not only provided the opportunity to learn basic photography and storytelling skills but simultaneously raised awareness about environmental conservation. 

Sam Suendermann, the volunteer women’s surf development officer, says that surfers experience the impact of pollution firsthand as the sport is strongly connected to the environment. Here she talks about the messages behind the photo stories and how Solwata Sista encourages its members and surrounding community to play its part in keeping the ocean clean. 

Can you tell us more about the photo stories at the Sik Plastik exhibition?

We had five girls – Raine, Cindy, Mavillie, Lorein and Jill – tell various photo stories using the theme of ‘water’. We wanted a theme that could connect to the environment, kastom and everyday life while still addressing the current problem of ocean and marine debris.

Jill expresses her interest for marine life in her story ‘Creatures of the Ocean’. In just one afternoon, she went to the rock pools in front of her house and took photos of an array of animals including an eel and octopus.

Cindy and Mavillie used imagery to capture the various ways that the ocean is useful, including how it can be used for recreation (surfing and play), food, medicinal purposes and how rubbish washed up can also be recycled and made into art.

Raine and Lorein used their passion for environmental conservation to capture how the ocean is severely impacted by rubbish. Their pictures also portrayed village life and how it has become commonplace for people to litter with little regard for their actions.

Why was photography chosen than any other mediums?

Photography has the ability to tell a thousand words with a single image. It can capture culture, society and behavior.

In relation to the exhibition, it was the ideal medium to demonstrate the reality of the situation by providing evidence of environmental degradation.

We also wanted to use a medium that the girls would be able to access after they completed the photography workshop. With the use of mobile phones or cameras borrowed from Solwata Sista, the girls are able to share their stories and create new ones with their newfound skills.


How does Solwata Sista promote environmental awareness?

Solwota Sista ensures that action and education, such as environmental awareness and beach clean ups, are implemented in the programs and events that are run. The Vanuatu Surf Association, with the assistance of John Steven from, also facilitated the Clean Up Vanuatu Day in Pango Village.

Our older surfers are also becoming leaders within the community and act as positive role models to the younger generation to try and change behavior and champion good practices.

The main theme of the exhibition is the impact of plastic bags to the ocean. What can be used as an alternative to plastic bags?

Nearly every family in Vanuatu owns at least one traditional weaving basket. These baskets are strong, durable, made from natural material and can be re-used over and over again. It can also fit up to three times the amount of what can go inside a plastic bag.

In Western countries, re-usable bags are slowly overtaking single-use plastic bags. However to produce a western style re-usable bag is a lot of energy consumption. Vanuatu is one step in front because the production of just one hand woven basket is next to nothing.

Unfortunately we are resorting to plastic bags when we have the traditional knowledge and ability to replace imported plastics with weaving and natural products that are not only good for the environment but would also support the local economy.

How can individuals do their part in not polluting?

Vanuatu is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and I hope that it stays this way. Yet as a surfer I walk the beaches every morning and feel almost hopeless at the amounts of rubbish washed up. The rubbish is made out of poisonous toxins that will kill animals and the environment.

As individuals we have the power to change this. We can do our bit by replacing single-use plastic bags with weaving baskets and elastic bands with natural twine. We can say no to straws and buy products that are not individually wrapped.

Think about your daily behavior in relation to plastic and try and change it one step at a time while encouraging your children, your family and your friends to join you.


This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Life and Style magazine.