Visitors to the V&A Waterfront over the past few weeks may have noticed that we've been invaded... by a Giant Penguin statue. This penguin's presence in the V&A Waterfront is part of an art installation organised by local gallery Art@Africa, featuring the work of world-renowned Belgian sculptor William Sweetlove, and "Waterwars" the penguin and Sweetlove have a message they would like all visitors to take home with them.

Sweetlove’s Waterwars is a Giant Penguin sculpture, rising out of plastic waste and single-use plastic bags. Sweetlove views his sculptures as animal clones that cannot survive in the polluted world we are creating, and apart from the growing crisis of plastic pollution in the ocean clearly depicted in this statue, other threats to the environment are also highlighted - for example, the impending shortage of drinking water is reimagined in the boots, backpacks, and water bottles the animals wear and carry as a symbol of extinction.

The Giant Penguin sculpture is a silent sentinel in a landscape of man-made, recycled detritus. Yet, Sweetlove’s penguin communicates the message: “don’t throw away plastic, don’t throw away the environment, don’t throw away the future!” The Giant Penguin goes hand in hand with and becomes the ambassador of the V&A ‘s campaign to ban single-use plastic bags.

“Climate change is the basis of my research. I have always been inspired by the concept of art not busy with aesthetics but where social, political and ecological issues are involved. I am not a ‘green’ individual and politics leave me cold, but I want to leave a message behind me about the world without polluting her.” – William Sweetlove

Waterwars intends to call viewers' attention to the relationship between nature and our immediate environment. The artist does this through fantasy and fact - Sweetlove’s penguin focusses on the myth, the cliché, and the hype of toys, adapted, larger than life. Conceptually, the Sweetlove sculptures and their site-specific installations worldwide address the realities of threatened natural resources and endangered wildlife. Sweetlove’s sculpture is the animal of our dreams, the animal of the forever world, the world of excess and responsibility. Ultimately, this giant sculpture is the metamorphosis of the consumption and discard of society, and the confrontation between man and nature.

About the "cloned animals"

The twenty-first century presents an increasing number of environmental problems, from pollution and global warming to the destruction of tropical forests and wetlands, extinction of biological diversity and depletion of natural resources and water shortage. With a deep understanding of human behaviour (sometimes at odds with human nature), Belgian artist William Sweetlove encourages us to become environmental thinkers and behavioural ecologists. The exuberance of his sculptures transforms ordinary animals and objects into iconic figures. Part alchemist, scientist, artist and visionary, punster, adventurer, intellectual nomad, Sweetlove creates sculptures which at first encounter look like supersized toys, iconic pets or dramatic playthings. The artist puts boots on alligators, water bottles on tortoises, and backpacks on frogs to support them against current climate change.

Who is William Sweetlove?

William Sweetlove is a sculptor, painter and assemblage artist. Those interested in labelling his work can choose from neo-pop, minimal-surrealism and postmodernism. But eat-art, eco, recycle and fossil art would all fit equally well. It makes no difference to the artist or his art. Sweetlove puts forth the message of a world in need. In his work, he mockingly denounces rigidity and narrow-mindedness and addresses our basic humanity: it’s fine to establish our place in the world, but let’s not forget that our world is a borrowed thing and our actions should never be at the expense of animals.

Credit: Funkyxian [CC BY-SA 4.0]

In addition to his solo work in sculpture, Sweetlove has worked collaboratively with other artists for more than 20 years as a member of the Cracking Art Group, an art collective founded in 1983 in Biella, northern Italy. Together they share a strong social and environmental vision, working collectively to create artwork and sculptural installations that call attention to environmental issues. They have exhibited widely throughout Europe, South and North America as well as Asia over the last 25 years, including at the 2001 and 2005 Venice Biennales. Together, the Cracking Art Group has created over 600 exhibitions worldwide.

"Darwin taught us that living creatures can only survive if they adapt to their changing environment. But with changes happening so quickly now, animals don’t have time to evolve and are going extinct. If the temperature in Africa rises by 5 degrees Celsius, elephants will go extinct. This is why I’m cloning them on a smaller scale. Seawater levels are on the rise, and we’ll soon be facing a shortage of drinking water. This is why my cloned dogs wear boots, my penguins carry water bottles, and my frogs wear backpacks. They need them to survive. The public needs to be kept informed and aware." - William Sweetlove

Waterwars the giant penguin will be on display on the V&A Waterfront Pierhead until March 2020. Be sure to pay this beautiful piece of art a visit, and experience even more beautiful artwork at the Art@Africa gallery at the Clocktower - and take home the environmental message that this penguin stands for.

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