In the wake of an underwater volcanic eruption that led to a crisis in the Kingdom of Tonga, the oceanically inclined arts enterprise TBA21-Academy has issued a plea for help.
“Scientists estimated the eruption exerted a force equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs that was heard more than 750km away in Fiji to be the largest worldwide over the last 30 years,” reads a “Call to Action” at TBA21-Academy’s website. “A thick layer of ash remains across Tonga, poisoning drinking water supplies and killing crops, whilst the world’s highest concentration of toxic sulfur dioxide gas currently measured over the Pacific Ocean looms.”
The organization is asking concerned global citizens to join it in supporting a GoFundMe campaign organized by Pita Taufatofua, who waved the Tongan flag at the last Olympics, or the International Red Cross, which is working with local chapters on different kinds of aid.
TBA21-Academy has been active in and around Tonga for years, by way of an ocean-going vessel that has brought artists, scientists, and thinkers of other kinds around the world to consider and engage issues related to climate change as made apparent by disruption in the seas. As part of the call for support, the organization—directed by Markus Reymann and chaired by the storied art collector and patron Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza—has offered an example of the kind of work made as a result: a 21-minute video titled Hunga Tonga by the Danish artist collective Superflex, which participated in a seafaring journey with TBA21-Academy in 2018. (“They’re almost like landscapes that you sail across,” Rasmus Nielsen of Superflex told ARTnews about sailing over the unfathomably deep Tonga Trench for a feature about TBA21-Academy shortly after. “You feel out of scale, and seasick. There’s so much water underneath you that it’s hard to grasp.”)
In a statement as part of the call to action, Thyssen-Bornemisza said, “The Tongan people are some of the kindest and warmest people in the world and are already struggling with the effects of climate change. What concerns me immensely apart from the loss of so many homes and livelihoods, Tonga is also home to one of the world’s most important calving and mating grounds for the Humpback whales, which is the main source for their tourist economy. What we need now is aid as well as scientific evaluation of the fertile ocean that surrounds this wonderful country. TBA21 is pulling together all the research, resources, and contacts to come up with an efficient aid package to support the Tongan people.”