I am thrilled and incredibly proud to learn that Simon Max Bannister, creator of the Plastikos exhibit in the Two Oceans Aquarium, was named the 2013 David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s Wildlife Artist of the Year on 3 June 2013 in London.
Simon was awarded the prize for his piece Long Journey from Londolozi, which is a large sculpture of three wooden giraffe. The sculpture is on display at Londolozi, where Simon is currently artist-in-residence. According to Londolozi’s blog, Simon said on receiving the award: “I’m obviously so pleased with the outcome, it is a great affirmation of my work and I really think that this will galvanise my journey even more. My thanks go to those that believe in me and those that understand that art has an important role to play in environmental awareness. I will be using this award to create more outstanding works, so keep watching this space!”
Internationally renowned wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd is quoted as saying: “The entries were quite magnificent this year and Simon is a very worthy winner … From the judges’ point of view the drama and technical excellence in all the work was quite breathtaking.” The Wildlife Artist of the Year competition has been running for six years, and was instituted by Shepherd to raise awareness of endangered mammals in the wild in Africa and Asia.
Simon’s creation, Plastikos, which can be seen in the Aquarium’s Atlantic Ocean Gallery above the Touch Pool, is a unique exhibition that aims to raise awareness about waste – particularly plastic and microplastic – and its impact on the oceans, all through art. It includes three giant sculptures: a massive 10-metre long “Dragon” which represents the monster of waste that must be confronted and overcome. Suspended above the Touch Pool, the dragon shares his lair in the air with a manta ray and a jellyfish. Many marine animals mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest them, with often fatal results. According to Simon: “Reusing the waste I removed from the natural environment as the medium for the artworks demonstrates the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, [which is] mixed with an environmental paradox to [help us] rethink our understanding of what plastic really is.”
Simon’s work in the Aquarium attracted the attention of the 5 Gyres Institute and at the beginning of 2011 Simon joined them on a transatlantic voyage, trawling for plastic in the South Atlantic Gyre. Read more about his journey here and here.
At the end of 2011 the Aquarium also hosted Vacs from the Sea, a temporary installation by Simon, which aimed to create further awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean. Simon used an Electrolux vacuum cleaner as his canvas, and incorporated recycled plastic gathered from beach clean-ups.
Going back to Simon’s recent award, I believe that he is worthy of this international recognition and it will elevate his status as a great South African artist, and heighten awareness of critical environmental issues. His art is powerful, provocative and soulful, and goes beyond the traditional environmental messages with which people are now overly familiar and to which they are no longer sensitive.
Congratulations, Simon – we look forward to seeing more great work from you!