Susan Israel Guna Yala.JPG

Susan Israel, artist, architect and climate advocate from Boston, MA, installed “Rising Waters” on three islands on the Guna Yala (San Blas) archipelago in Panama in February 2017 to tell the story of sea level rise and climate migration.

Using sea level rise predictions from scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, “Rising Waters” art installations’ mark buildings and landscapes with lines to show future flood levels due to sea level rise and storms. Installed around the world then photographed, the installations become travelling photography exhibitions with interviews of residents and experts.

Susan Israel.Guna Yala.2017 (26).JPG

“Rising Waters” aims to publicize impending flood impacts of climate change and resulting climate migrations.  For Guna Yala, Susan made fabric stripes in colors that reference the locally handcrafted Molas.  On the community island, Playon Chico, excited children and adults gathered around Susan and enthusiastically joined the installation.  Children participated in both making and installing the art, and several residents were interviewed by Susan and her team. Through this day of making art together, the children were connected to the sea level rise data in an engaging and non-frightening way.

Rising Tides Guna Yala

On three islands, Susan and the children installed the fabric stripes using a flour and water-based paste to leave no environmental damage, with the intent the fabric would be used in Molas when removed. Susan then installed the stripes on one of the tiny islands where coconuts are harvested to show the limited years left for these islands as a source of income.

This generation of Guna children almost certainly will be flooded from their homes. Susan interviewed several island residents and elders, who all observed sea water creeps up the main street in the center of the island in October, when the seasonal tides are highest.  In fact, the evidence Susan saw uncovered anecdotally about sea level rise seems to outpace the scientific, predictive data.

The interviews illustrate the Guna community is well-aware that they need to vacate the islands, and are even looking forward to moving to the mainland where they will be close to their food sources. 

However, the Guna lack funding to make the move, and will require government assistance and policy to relocate.

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To learn more about Susan Israel and Rising Water click here!

Edited by Lorin Mallorie

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