Beyond Borders: Art and Activism - Maine College of Art

Aaron Staples '08

Art is a lens to look at issues that are too complex to examine in words.

Aaron Staples ’08, who grew up in Maine and earned his BFA from MECA in Graphic Design, worked with Greenpeace to create art for their “Not Just Tuna” campaign that demonstrates the environmental destruction implicit in commercial tuna fishing, which includes destructive fishing methods and exploitive and unsafe working conditions for the fishermen.

As part of the campaign, Aaron was commissioned to create large paintings in the Sumi-e style, using black ink made from lamp soot. In a Bangor Daily News article about the project, Aaron said, “It’s really an honor. I’m very proud to be able to lend my small voice to this larger campaign in a meaningful way.”

His process and work were featured on a blog post entitled “4 Reasons Art is Essential to Activism,” which quoted some of Aaron’s thoughts about the project: ““Regardless of what language they speak, people can feel the emotion. That’s why art can be such a powerful tool to translate these ideas across a range of audiences. They’re responding specifically — and very viscerally — to what they’re seeing.”

“Risk is a large part of making art. What you’re doing is essentially opening yourself up and putting your thoughts, ideas and way of responding to the world on display for people to come and look at. You don’t know if people will embrace it … I think it’s the same for artists and activists: there’s a compulsion. There’s this innate drive to do what it is you need to do. We have to react, so we get over the fear of failure.”

In the BDN article, Molly Dorozenski, from Greenpeace, said, “We were immediately taken with his ability to distill complex ideas into beautiful and captivating visual stories. Because the Not Just Tuna campaign shows how current methods of fishing tuna impact both the diversity of marine life and the humans who are working in terrible conditions, we knew we needed a special artist to be able to illustrate that complexity. Furthermore, our campaign is global, but Aaron’s images don’t need to be translated — they tell the entire story of the campaign in images.”

aaronstaplesartillustration.com