American artist Courtney Mattison draws inspiration from our oceans and the coral reefs within, a subject intrinsically connected to the Coral Triangle islands of Indonesia. Her commission for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Confluence (Our Changing Seas V), and the following Artist Exchange to Indonesia allowed her to reconnect with these ideas and engage with communities across the islands.
Over the course of Mattison’s program, she visited not only Jakarta but the islands of Tidung and Alor, where she lectured, gave presentations, and worked with students and community members in hands-on demonstrations connecting her work to the nearby coral reefs. Of her approach, she says “I believe that art has an enormous potential to engage people from all backgrounds and inspire us to connect emotionally to issues that may otherwise seem foreign and unapproachable.”
Upon arrival in Jakarta, she particiaped in a talk at Mercu Buana University entitled Mix Media Design, Explore Your Design in Creative Way. A discussion followed, led by Indonesian sustainable fashion designer Debora Mettu. Afterwards, she led a workshop with students in which they modeled and painted their own chunks of coral from air-drying clay. Mattison noted that even after a three-hour workshop, the students wanted to stay and keep working on their creations.
The next day, she traveled north by boat into the Java Sea to Tidung Island where she prepared to hold a similar workshop with high school students and other island residents. The island is largely a fishing community with critical interest in the health of the ocean. Mattison hoped that hand-sculpting coral from clay could bring them closer to the intricacy and fragility of the organisms growing from the ocean floor. She inspired students with printed images of a variety of coral and watched them transition from hesitant to focused and eager as they experimented with different textures and forms.
In the morning she returned to the high school to give a presentation on the power of art to raise awareness about Indonesia’s coral reefs. On seeing her message about combining art and science for ocean conservation take root, Mattison says “I hope that participants and audience members who were involved in my program feel empowered to figure out unique and creative ways in which to mitigate these impacts and protect Indonesia’s coral reefs while they are still so vibrant and resilient.”
Back in Jakarta, Courtney Mattison took a group on a tour of the Embassy’s art collection, including a visit to her monumental installation. She also presented on her work and its connection to the preservation of coral reefs, followed by a question and answer session, followed by a presentation and discussion at @america, the American cultural center in Jakarta, speaking with over one hundred university students, local artists, and environmental activists.
The Exchange concluded with travel to Alor Island, in the furthest eastern reaches of Indonesia. Here, an area rich in coral reef biodiversity, she met with the World Wildlife Federation Indonesia field office. “The people of Alor directly rely upon its reefs for survival while also playing a key role in protecting them, Mattison says. “I hope that sharing my art with young coral reef conservation stakeholders inspired them to feel pride about their reefs as well as a deeper sense of connection and caring for protecting these vital ecosystems.” She held two more workshops with university and high school students, working with them to create hand-sculpted and painted pieces of coral that represented the “Amazon Rainforest of the sea” among which they live.