The Glasgow School of Art

Undercurrents: Art and Ocean in Africa and the Pacific

This interdisciplinary and international research has supported eight community-based art projects that surface cultural and emotional connections with the ocean in Ghana, South Africa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

'Undercurrents' examines the ways that art can express indigenous values relating to ocean governance in Africa and the South Pacific. Climate change, over-fishing, pollution and mining are among numerous stressors that threaten the health of the ocean. While there is growing global awareness of the harm being caused, high-level debates and responses frequently prioritise economic, political and legal considerations. The views of local communities most dependant on the sea are often marginalised or excluded.

Researchers from The Glasgow School of Art, under the auspice of the One Ocean Hub DEEP Fund, have supported eight community-based art projects in South Africa, Ghana, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. In a departure from conventional modes of investigating community relations where priorities are defined by academics and/or practitioners, projects were collaboratively designed to reveal human relationships and emotional connections with the ocean.

Artists, cultural practitioners and researchers involved in these projects demonstrate the efficacy of traditional knowledge in relation to the ocean-climate nexus. Indigenous practices and values are communicated through diverse media including visual art, craft, fashion, music, literature, oral history and digital content. The featured works of art communicate time-honored relationships with the sea and reinforce the need for global strategies of ocean conservation.

The pavilion presents a selection of work from two projects, Our Sacred Ocean by the Keiskamma Art Project (South Africa) and Netai en Namou Toc / Stories of Mother Ocean by the Erromango Cultural Association (Vanuatu), as well as a walkthrough of the digital version of the Undercurrents exhibition that was held at The Glasgow School of Art in April 2023.    

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Tapestry in progress, Keiskamma Trust, Hamburg, Eastern Cape, South Africa (2021)


Art and Design research at The Glasgow School of Art is amongst the best in the UK, as reflected in our outstanding result in the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF2021), where 82% of our research was assessed as world leading or internationally excellent, placing us at the top of all UK practice-based Art & Design specialist institutions. Reaching for excellence drives everything we do, and we are particularly proud of our research impact; 88.5% of our research impact is world leading and internationally excellent, higher than the Scottish and UK national averages across all disciplines in the sector. We continually advocate for the value of creative practice research and its methods for asking and responding to complex questions of societal, cultural, and environmental urgency, especially as part of collaborative interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary enquiries.



Dr Lisa McDonald

Research Lead:

Professor Stuart Jeffrey


One Ocean Hub, Deep Emotional Engagement Programme (DEEP) Fund


One Ocean Hub is funded by UKRI GCRF (Grant Ref: NE/S008950/1)

DEEP Fund partners:

Alvaro Sumaki Kuautonga, Vanuatu

Association of Solomon Islands in Creative Fashion, Solomon Islands

Drama Queens, Ghana

Dr Eric Debrah Otchere, University of Cape Coast, Ghana

Erromango Cultural Association, Vanuatu

Keiskamma Art Project, South Africa

Lloyd Newton, Solomon Islands

Pax Jakupa, Papua New Guinea

Rhodes University, South Africa

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, South Africa

Straight Family Entertainment, Ghana

Urban Futures Centre, Durban University of Technology, South Africa