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Article: Meet the Women Behind ARTivism

Three colorful reusable silicone sandwich bags for Earth Month

Meet the Women Behind ARTivism

The intersection of art and activism is where visual storytelling can be a voice for action. That’s ARTivism — our 2023 Earth Month collection and the guiding light of the PangeaSeed Foundation’s groundbreaking public arts program, Sea Walls. Through this program, artists from around the world come together to create murals that give the ocean a voice. 

Our new collection is inspired by the beauty of art and fueled by our passion to create healthy oceans. And we want you to learn all about it, so we’ve chatted with PangeaSeed’s Director of Operations Akira Biondo and Sea Walls artist Kell Sunshine on their backgrounds, ocean advocacy, and more.

PangeaSeed Director of Operations Akira Biondo

What were some of your experiences in school and life that shaped the career you have today?  

Akira: Growing up in a multi-racial family, I’ve always been fascinated by how our cultures, norms, and traditions shape society. I also had the privilege of traveling a good amount at a young age, which cemented an appreciation of diversity, both human and natural.


You’re the co-founder of PangeaSeed’s Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans program, which now has murals in 19 countries. How did the idea of it come to life? What are some of your proudest milestones? 

Akira: Before launching [Sea Walls], our work had been focused on smaller-scale art displayed in gallery-like settings. When our good friend and former creative director — Aaron Glasson —was living in Sri Lanka teaching at the Academy of Design in Colombo, he and a fellow artist painted a mural in response to an oil tanker leak.  

The community’s response was overwhelmingly supportive. We painted another mural highlighting manta rays in a village where the locals were overfishing them for their gill rakers used in pseudo-medicine. We found that we had an opportunity to democratize ARTivism by taking to the streets and transforming people’s environment.


Why is art an effective means of activism? 

Akira: Art has the unique power to make statements that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. Evoking an emotional response, an image can inspire us to make a change because, as Jacques Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they are taught.” Through art, we can connect with an audience that may otherwise not have been receptive.


Did you ever have a moment that really transformed the way you thought about you work, or even challenged an assumption you had? 

Akira: Many years ago, we got to interview a group of shark fishermen in the Philippines about their work. They broke down in tears talking about the pressure to provide for their families at the high cost of decimating shark populations and marine biodiversity, which will, in turn, affect the very children they were trying to feed. This is just one example that reminds me always to try and understand the root causes of a problem so that we can find equitable and sustainable solutions for the long term.


What’s exciting to you about Earth Month this year — both in collaboration with us and overall?

Akira: I’ve been using Stasher bags for nearly six years, so it was really exciting to partner on our Sea Walls Emeryville project last year. Aligning with like-minded brands is an excellent way to share our message with the world, and we’re so grateful for the continued support . . . With industries, governments, and culture slowly but surely shifting to become more planet-minded every year, we’re stoked to join forces with Stasher and inject some ARTivism and color through this campaign. 

Akira Biondo is the Director of Operations at PangeaSeed. Learn more about their work here. 

 New Zealand Artist Kell Sunshine

How does the ocean influence your work? 

Kell: The ocean is like an anchor for me — it influences my work by keeping me in check. It can calm me down, wake me up, wash away woes. It is ever humbling, and from that place I’m able to direct my best energy toward creativity.


What’s something unique that art brings to the table when we’re talking about conservation? 

Kell: Accessibility. Humans naturally engage with art and images . . . I’ve witnessed over and over again the reaction of someone who has seen something in an illustration that lit a fire inside them. Like, that instant “aha!” That’s powerful. Art allows messages to be heard.


You first began working with the Sea Walls program in 2017 for the Napier, NZ activation as a muralist. How did you get involved with the program?

Kell: I’d decided I wanted to produce something large, loud, and environmentally focused for my hometown of Tairawhiti. I knew about Sea Walls as I’d been eagerly following along online, so I reached out to start a conversation with no clear idea of where it might be headed. I was invited to paint in Napier to meet the crew . . . I charged forward with directing Sea Walls Tairawhiti in 2018, with Napier’s director Cinzah as my wingman.  

It was a huge project, a lot of work, and I loved every minute of it. Gisborne [also known as Tairawhiti] and the wider east coast are entwined with the ocean. It’s a part of us. It meant the world to me to bring something so fabulous and meaningful to the streets of my home.


As a creative, what are some ways you protect your wellbeing and prevent dwelling on “the problem” when pushing forward? 

Kell: Every time I start to feel overwhelmed with the weight of the world, I plant more seeds. No joke! I just grow more plants. And then grab the dog and head to the sea. But I’m also very cautious of how much media I consume, as I’m someone who tends to really feel the weight of things. Staying informed is important, but I’m careful to balance the cost of my emotional wellbeing.  


Let’s talk about the beautiful print you created to support Stasher’s new ARTivism collection. Would you describe that process? What’s your favorite thing about the print?

Kell: I start with a very rough sketch for the layout, and then build up the illustration from there — layer upon layer until I’m happy with the line work. The colors in this piece are inspired by the cool new Stasher [bag] range. I chose jellyfish, coral, and seaweed because of their forms, echoing the word “wave” with their flowing, wobbly arms and tails. I think my favorite thing about it is the dancing tendrils of those happily little jellys! 

Kell Sunshine is a New Zealand based artist and Sea Walls member. Check out more of her art here. 

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