By: Thea Udwadia
Photo credits of: Thea Udwadia
The Greenpeace exhibition at the Vancouver Maritime Museum is a fascinating one that displays the history of Greenpeace, an international organisation whose roots lie in our very own city of Vancouver. The organisation is well known for its environmental efforts and stance against nuclear weaponry.
The exhibition makes use of Greenpeace’s long and complex history to tell a fascinating story. It displays a sail, for instance, from the Moby Dick vessel, which was acquired in the 1980s. One of the features of this sail includes a crest, a symbol that has an intricate story to it, dating back to 1971. It also ties into a discourse that is familiar in our modern society — that of cultural appropriation.
When travelling for their first mission to Alaska, the Moby Dick vessel stopped at Alert Bay and received a blessing for the mission from the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The mission was considered successful, and was celebrated in Alert Bay upon their return. At the celebration, Greenpeace was gifted a piece of cloth a crest on it; henceforth, this crest was used as a symbol for Greenpeace in their missions, despite them never having received permission to do so.
Today, Greenpeace recognises this as an appropriation of culture, and has held talks with the Kwakwaka’wakw people in an effort towards reconciliation. “They worked with the Kwakwaka’wakw people and Bo Dick, a renowned artist, to create a new symbol that would be given to Greenpeace to use in perpetuity,” said Duncan Macleod, curator of the Vancouver Maritime Museum. It is this symbol that is on display today at the Maritime Museum, indicative of a new era of reconciliation.
“The exhibition is not meant to be a promotion of Greenpeace,” Duncan mentioned. In fact, he referenced how the exhibition has a section dealing with certain criticisms of Greenpeace. In doing so, it manages to tell a well-rounded story of Greenpeace’s initiatives and transformation through the years, starting from its beginnings in Vancouver.
The Maritime Museum exhibits artefacts from Greenpeace’s first campaign to Alaska, its second anti-whaling campaign and also a section on Greenpeace and the media.
“One of the reasons they were successful is because they were able to get their message out to a lot of people, and this was because they did this through a lot of newspapers, radio and TV,” Duncan said.
The exhibit displays Greenpeace’s features in popular contemporary newspapers, an interesting way to see Greenpeace’s reach and impact through the years.
The final section displays how Greenpeace grew as an organisation and expanded to other causes, beyond their original ones of whaling and nuclear testing. “It displays…how the movement they started about environmental conscientiousness has permeated into more mainstream society, so that there are more people working on it and talking about it, and more efforts within governments and industries to try and find solution,” Duncan mentioned.
“Although there is still lots of work to be done,” he acknowledged.
To convey this message, and showcase the imminent threat of plastic to our oceans, the exhibition also displays a large case in the centre of the room, filled to the brim with plastic. Its description reads: “It is estimated that approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year. That is the equivalent of 30 times the volume of plastic in this case entering the ocean every second.”
Within the framework of these environmental missions, the museum not only wishes to display artefacts that call upon the history of Greenpeace activism, but is also forward-looking in its ambitions and goals. “One thing that we hope to do as part of this exhibition is to have a speaker or lecture series…to discuss topics of environmentalism, innovation in industry, in new technologies, and hopefully engage the public,” Duncan said.
“One of the really important things is to let people know what is being done and what is left to be done,” he added. “That’s one of the mandates of the museum, to be a center for dialogue and discourse.”
The exhibit could not come at a more appropriate time, given the environmental debates going on in Vancouver and beyond. The museum, through telling a fascinating story and shedding light on Greenpeace’s complex history, equips its audience with an interesting perspective to use in this ongoing debate.