The Artistic Mermaid — spreading awareness on endangered coral reefs

Business reporter

Sunday, July 28, 2019

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SOME say beauty is only skin deep, but ceramic artist Anna-K Cuffe knows it goes much deeper than that.

Self-proclaimed mermaid, Anna-K always had a love for bodies of water, but it was the ocean that was her calling. Through her unique perspective, she's able to take the wonders of the ocean's floor and share it with those not fortunate enough to witness it for themselves. However, more than meets the eye, her craft also carries a very important message — raising awareness on dying coral reefs.

“When I started art school my pieces were of course about the ocean, merging the two things I love— art and the ocean,” she said in an interview with Jamaica Observer.

“But in my final year, seeing what was going on in the ocean and how corals were being destroyed, I decided to try to tell the story with my art.”

A year after graduating from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts with a Bachelors of Fine Arts specialising in ceramic sculpture in 2017, the 22-year-old launched The Artistic Mermaid, a ceramics business venture that is inspired by the ocean, celebrating and exploring the different types of corals and marine life.

A certified diver, Anna-K was able to see the vast change of the marine ecosystem first hand, an experience she had to share to spread awareness.

“Since a lot of people don't swim, much less dive, they may not necessarily be aware of what's going on under the ocean and therefore have no connection with it,” she explained to Sunday Finance.

“What I want to do is bring the underwater world to the surface to allow people to build a personal connection with the reefs that will hopefully enact a positive change. I try to show the different stages of life in some of my pieces so people can see how they used to look and how they look currently and feel compelled to ask questions about the situation .”

Anna-K emphasised that anyone can make a difference to the climate and environmental challenges that we currently face, whether it be small.

First introduced to ceramic at her alma mater, St Andrew High School for Girls, Anna-K quickly realised that anything other than ceramics were just not for her— a “regular 9-5” just would not do.

Describing her entrepreneurial journey, Anna-K recalls the financial support she got from family and friends who believed in her cause and made it possible to purchase a kiln machine, an oven-like machine that is used to harden the clay. According to Anna-K, the process of making a sculpture on average takes about two days to two weeks depending on the design and size of the sculpture. But above all, she credits her mother and her older brother as her inspirations and main support system.

Naturally a shy person, Anna-K recounts being extremely nervous and hesitant to put herself out there and share her work with people interested.

“I still hate public speaking in front of large crowds but I no longer feel like I'm having a heart attack because of it,' she revealed.

“But since then I feel being able to communicate better with persons interested in my work is an achievement”.

While many are moved by the story behind the ceramic pieces, Anna-K said people's initial reaction is shock when they find out they are all handmade from clay.

“People are especially interested because they say it's unlike anything they've seen done in Jamaica,” she continued. “Some people just like them because of the form and just how a piece looks in general”.

Anna-K often participates in exhibitions, according to her, that are suitable for her and the business, like the Tourism Linkages Network's 'Christmas in July' exhibition, as she believes she is able to reach and connect with a wider audience. While she begrudgingly admits she sometimes focuses on the creation aspect more than the other part of the business, she assured that she plans to develop an efficient product branding strategy which, she is optimistic, will improve with better time management.

She then revealed that in expanding The Artistic Mermaid she would like to have two separate lines - fine art pieces and commercial products.

The fine art line will focus on capturing and displaying the coral reef narrative and the commercial products would include pieces such as ceramic earrings, rings, dishes and wine stoppers.

But her dreams don't stop there.

“In the next year my goal is to take part in a ceramic residency in Bali or Denmark and I want to volunteer with this organization called 'Love The Ocean' in Mozambique,' she divulged.

“The residency will give me the opportunity to grow my craft more with no other distractions. Then between 2021 and 2022 I want to have my first major solo exhibition. Then by 2023 I want to have built my dream studio space. But in between that I see myself hopefully creating larger installation type pieces for hotels, different environmentally friendly organizations and foundations, and hopefully maybe even an underwater sculpture”.

Such goals may become overwhelming or seem intimidating but Anna-K assures that while she enjoys what she does, having these goals is one sure way to remain focused.

“I love creating, I just enjoy creating on a whole, even when something goes bad I just think, ok, now I know better,” she shared.

“I have the big goals but then I break it up to very small goals to get to the big one, but it's just that feeling of accomplishment and progress when I finish something that keeps me focused”.

Being able to monetize one's interests, passion and talent is the dream of any entrepreneur. This is no different for Anna-K Cuffe. Taking her interests of underwater landscapes, her passion for environmental consciousness, her talent for ceramic art, she's living that dream to the fullest, and like her mission to spread awareness on environmental changes, this dream is an ever growing effort.

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