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Photos By Jonny Grave, Words By Kelly Rodgers

On Friday, May 27, Smithsonian’s National Zoo launches Wahed Ashore, the first large-scale art exhibition on display at the Zoo. Washed Ashore is non-profit, community-based organization started by artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, whose mission is to educate people of all ages about the impact of trash on marine life through the creation of sculptures made of recycled materials found on Pacific shores.

Not many people realize the Smithsonian National Zoological Park isn’t just a zoo. It’s a research facility where scientists come from all over the country to study wildlife. Similarly, Washed Ashore is art with a mission. It not just fun to look at; it’s making an effort to change the way people think about our impact on the oceans, and the environment as a whole.

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Devin Murphy, a communications specialist at the Zoo, told us more about animal research, and the zoo’s focus on wildlife preservation. Many of the animals brought to the zoo have had to leave the wild in efforts to save their lives. Several animals that now live there have either had their mothers killed due to human pollution or have been effected by human waste in the wild in some form or another.

To learn more about the impact that human waste has on animals, particularly sea animals, we met with animal trainer Jackie Spicer to get a closer look at some of the National Zoo’s most curious marine species: the sea lions.

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“These animals out in the wild, they’re curious by nature, so if they see anything floating around, they’re first going to try and figure out if it is food or not. They’re mostly going to play around with it in their mouth and they accidentally ingest any sort of marine debris, whether its trash or plastic, it can do a lot of damage internally,” Spicer said. “We have the ability to go out and try to connect with people and make them understand that [two of the female sea lions] are here because of human purposes. They would not be here if humans weren’t damaging their homes.”

After spending some quality time with the sea lions (from inside the exhibit — probably one of the coolest things I have ever done), we left Spicer to meet up with Pozzi, the artist/teacher/organizer/project manager behind  Washed Ashore. When first meeting Pozzi, she explained that her mind worked differently than others, and that to create this exhibition she had to “turn her brain inside out.” Growing up on the shores of Oregon, Pozzi’s summers were always spent admiring the Pacific beaches which became the most constant, wonderful thing in Pozzi’s life. In times of struggle, like when her best friend and husband died of brain cancer in 2004, Pozzi always returned to the ocean as her safe haven. For a long time, she tried to ignore the trash and debris on the shores, but she reached a point where she could no longer ignore the reality of what is home to so many important marine animals. So she decided to do something about it.

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Six years ago, Pozzi began Washed Ashore by collecting pieces of trash, plastic, and other debris from the beaches in Oregon and with the help of her community, began to create works of art. And she doesn’t get offended when people call her art trash, because it is quite literally recycled trash. Each sculpture is made entirely from recycled debris held together by a steel frame, wire, and screws. The pieces are extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming. It can take anywhere from several months to a couple years to complete just one sculpture. However, the work and dedication that goes into each piece speaks for itself when the colorful and magnificent sculptures are seen in person.

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The massive sculptures are beautiful, and combine the efforts of hundreds of people to create something amazing. Pozzi brings together different communities to create these pieces by hosting free workshops. As a life-long artist and educator, Pozzi has led and taught many different kinds of populations, from high school art to senior citizens. Pozzi’s main goal is to open the door to discussion; to get people thinking and talking. She explained that materials like plastic are necessary to our way of life, and are impossible to get rid of. However, she hopes that through this exhibition, we might begin to change the way we think about plastic, and why we use it.

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Pozzi told us, “Sea creatures are something that everyone can relate to.” One of Pozzi’s main goals, besides starting conversation, is to bring art into places that normally do not have it, like the National Zoo. She was especially excited to bring the exhibition to D.C. because it’s, “Where decisions are made.” In years to come, Pozzi hopes to expand the projects internationally, and to partner with other corporations and countries and guide them through the process of creating their own recycled sculptures to add to the collection.

Is the overwhelming amount of plastic in the ocean something we can fix? Realistically, Pozzi said she likes to believe that it is a problem that we all can, otherwise she wouldn’t make these pieces. She explains the importance of not getting discouraged when facing down a problem this size.

All the pieces will be up by Friday, May 27, and they are well worth the visit through a tourist-clogged Zoo. Besides, supporting the Zoo is important. After all, there are oceans to be saved.

 

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