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Art exhibition addresses coastal erosion issue

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Locals Renae Perret and Barbara Veatch attended ‘The Last Islands’ Reception.
The two were among many attendees who came out for the event to view
the work of four seperate artists.
The Lion's Roar / Larshell Green

Local artists, authors, students and community leaders gathered at the Hammond Regional Art Center (HRAC) to view thoughtful pieces of art about an issue plaguing the local area: coastal erosion.

“The Last Islands” is an exhibition that focuses on capturing the vanishing coastline of south Louisiana. The exhibition opened on Feb. 5 and will continue through Feb. 26. HRAC held the public reception on Feb. 12 from 5 to 8 p.m. 

Four artists were featured: Gary LaFleur, Daniel Kariko, Ernest Milsted and Dennis Sipiorski. Art included photography, paintings, printmaking, ceramics and an installation.  

LaFleur is a marine biology professor at Nicholls State University. Kariko is a former Nicholls graduate who has taught at Florida State University. Milsted is an associate professor of art and printmaking at Southeastern and Sipiorski is head of the ceramics department at Southeastern. 

According to HRAC Executive Director Katherine Marquette, she wanted to help these artists in their mission to raise awareness on the critical issue of coastal erosion. 

“For some artists, capturing a beautiful moment or creating a beautiful object to be enjoyed by a viewer is the ultimate goal,” said Marquette. “While beauty is certainly present in ‘The Last Islands,’ there is more on the minds of the artists in this exhibition.”

Media coordinator for HRAC Tara Bennett sees the importance of this issue in the local area and notices the unique way art depicts this issue. 

“It’s more than just the islands themselves, but also the community and culture that can be found there,” said Bennett. “There is a very unique history represented within these pieces and one day they may be the only lasting physical evidence of the coastlines.”

Director of the Columbia Theatre Roy Blackwood was in attendance to support the local artists and the HRAC.

“It’s important to chat with the artists and get a deeper flavor for what they’re creating as an artist,” said Blackwood. “The art that represents the Gulf Coast depicts critical elements that are disappearing. If we don’t take some action to protect it, it may no longer exist.” 

According to Sipiorski, HRAC contacted him about possibly having an art show with other artists involving the 16 year study they conducted about coastal erosion. 

Sipiorski, who taught at Nicholls State University for 23 years, participated in a group that visited the coast and wanted to discuss erosion. In 2002, a class was started to discuss the issue and possible ways to prevent it. 

According to Sipiorski, he is anxious to see if the coast can be saved.

“Man destroyed it,” said Sipiorski. “Now man is going to try to save it. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

LaFleur’s photography belongs to a photo course at Nicholls State University. Because his coastal landscape photography course takes place on the edge of Louisiana, LaFleur thought it was appropriate to bring the show to Hammond.

“I want them to say to themselves, ‘We should go explore the coast because it is our homeland and there is a rare beauty to be found here,’” said LaFleur. “It’s easy to perceive a problem when something big happens like Katrina or the BP Oil Spill, but this is the large problem of costal land loss. That’s the real ecological disaster happening on the coast.”

According to LaFleur, he used a method called rayographs named after artist Man Ray in his photographs, in which you don’t use a negative or a camera, but you still make art in a darkroom. 

“In my rayographs, I feature some of the living creatures of the coast,” said LaFleur. “They are the art. I’m not really creating the beauty of the art. Mother Nature created the shapes and I’m just trying to record them.”

LaFleur and Sipiorski invited Kariko to work with them in 1999. The artists have all been attending trips to the coast where they gain inspiration and create art on site.

Photographer Kariko built a pinhole camera for the art shown at the exhibition. The unique device makes black and white images and causes the exposure to be five to 10 seconds long. Kariko encourages people to see the importance of human interaction and local culture surrounding coastal erosion through his work.

“I want them to understand in human interaction with the landscape,” said Kariko. “We depend on each other and exist in a close connection with nature. “It influences the way our culture and life changes based on these environmental issues. If we treat nature with this regard, we end up hurting ourselves.”

Milsted who also does photography takes a camera and notebook on the trips to the coast and collects artifacts through a practice called “beach combing.”  

 “Down there I get inspired by the place and the landscape and when I get back to the studio, I can talk about my experience in the art world,” said Milsted. 

According to Milsted, an artist he looks up to advised him to make art about the area that is he is from, Houma. 

“It’s always going to be sincere, and I’ll never run out of things to talk about,” said Milsted. “I don’t want to make pompous, arrogant art, but to speak sincerely about the place I call home.”

The featured artists will participate in a “Let’s Talk Art lecture” on Thursday, Feb.18 at 5 p.m. at the HRAC. For more information on HRAC, visit their website

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