Blog #95: The Life of Oceans - here in Vienna!

November 17, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Oceans in Vienna? Well, yes, indeed, that’s today’s topic, here in the LivingLight Blog! If you are surprised, so was I: Simply because I am not a regular visitor of the Weltmuseum Wien (shame on me!), I had no clue that the Museum had put on an extraordinary exhibition that takes you on a unique journey to the vast places or spaces we call Oceans. Oceans.Collections.Reflections. is the title of a very very unusual set of perspectives, curated and actually built not by an ethnographer or scientist but by an Artist, George Nuku, a New Zealand born Maori of Scottish and German descent. And I am here to tell you: It's worthwhile checking out!
Right when entering the exhibition - it’s rooms are easily accessible, on the ground floor of the otherwise large museum - one feels like actually entering an Ocean. Te Moananui - the Great Blue - is the theme here, and indeed, the colors that meet the eye are blue, no surprise, while a giant whale is greeting the visitor.  I am reminded of The Whale Ride, a beautiful 2002 film telling the story of a Maori girl struggling to be able to take part in the traditions that link her people with the ocean and its inhabitants.  And indeed, the room illustrates, with artefacts, art and stories, the relationship between man and the world of oceans, including wakas, the Maroi’s canoes used for traveling and engaging with the Ocean. I encounter, right here, one of the strongest, saddest, and wisest statements of this exhibition: In seeing two of the wakas, as well as other exhibits, made entirely or partially from plastic and not the traditional wood, I learn that - in George Nuku’s view - plastic is part of our (Ocean) world, it’s here to stay, so we may as well use it, respect it, cherish it where its right to do so.

Foto: Canoes - wakas - are part of the Oceans exhibition, illustrating what allowed the Maori to develop a unique relationship with the oceans as they traveled and engaged with the seas' creatures. Various wakas are featured in the exhibition, all telling the story of respect and appreciation.

Somewhat unsettled but inspired, I go on and walk towards the other rooms, touched by the beauty of the pictures, the monument-type statues and artefacts, and the way they are arranged, telling stories of men (and sometimes women) out there to learn about and live with and off the Oceans. Each room has a different theme - the World of Nature, The Underworld, The World of Light, Travelers, Hunters, six rooms altogether, each a completely different sensation in terms of colours, atmosphere, stories that are being told. 
Little did I know about the relationship between Austria and New Zealand, the Austrian Imperial Court and the Maori Elders. 19th century Austrian geologists Ferdinand von Hochstetter traveled to New Zealand and used what he learned to develop calculations that helped estimate the size of the Pacific Ocean, among many other geological works done by him. Somewhat different was the contribution of taxidermist Andreas Reischek who also traveled to Christchurch but stayed 12 years, collecting, sometimes destroying, and at other times taking with him both animals and artefacts, the ownership of which is still unresolved in the relationship with today’s Maori. And while his behaviors seem despicable, they also were typical of much of the 19th century scientist community who took a rather utilitarian - and colonialist - view of what they found wherever they went. The exhibition deals with these difficult parts of the shared history respectfully, telling the stories as they happened, and also not forgetting to mention the journey of two Maroi Chiefs, Wiremu Toetoe Tumohe and Hemara Te Rerehau, who visited Vienna in 1858, met the Emperor and his wife, and traveled back with a printing press in tow, a device that greatly seemed to have helped the Maori in highlighting the unjust nature of the British invasion at the time.
Oceans. Collections. Reflections. offers unique moments to take a deep-dive into the world of oceans. I had gone by chance - the Wiener Linien offered the owners of an Annual Ticket a free day pass on November 12 - not knowing what I should expect. Yet, with the World Climate Conference just about to conclude in Egypt, visiting the oceans at the World Museum seems the right thing to do.  The world’s oceans are a victim of climate change, absorbing 90% of the heat from global warming, experiencing heatwaves that cause ever growing losses in marine life - coral bleaching, reef degradation, loss in microscopic algae and loss in fish populations. And they are part of the solution, given their capacity to absorb carbon by hosting coastal blue carbon ecosystems
Visiting the exhibition at the World Museum will be an unusual trip also for you, I promise. It will be a trip that will expand your perspectives - about our relationship with nature, about respect for God’s creation, and perhaps most of all about beauty.  Enjoy!.
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