For the Good of the Hive
Murals in the River Parishes aim to create plastic pollution awareness
Select photos by John Dupre
Have you seen those two gigantic bees painted on the side of a small building on the corner of Karlstein and River Road near Vacherie? RISE St. James, a faith-based advocacy group based in Louisiana’s River Parishes, is calling upon honeybees to help fight for “environmental justice” and to prevent construction of the proposed $9.4 billion Formosa plastics plant in St. James Parish.
RISE St. James is part of an international art project that came to the region last spring to help create public awareness about a worldwide plastic pollution crisis. Working with Magnify, a recently formed international group of advocacy artists, and the United States branch of the Break Free From Plastic Movement, RISE St. James selected New York artist Matthew Willey to paint thought provoking beehive murals on the outside walls of area businesses.
Willey painted his first mural in April of 2022. It was a modest two-honeybee mural on the wall of that building on Karlstein Road. His plan was to paint the two scout bees and return to paint a full and more conspicuous beehive mural somewhere on the East Bank in the River Parishes or in the New Orleans area. It’s the full hive that carries the message. He says this is how it works in nature. The scout bee goes out alone, looking for a place to build a new hive and returns to the hive and communicates to other bees what it has found. The bees fly off to examine the location and when a majority of them agree, the swarm moves to the new location. At press time the East Bank site had yet to be chosen.
“Bees are all about balance in the hive, as well as with the landscape around them,” says Willey. “With oceans that are riddled with plastic waste and production of new single-use plastics still climbing, this mural project allows me to offer a suggestion that we look to the bees and all of nature to inform solutions around balance.”
The idea, says RISE St. James spokesman Gary Watson, is to draw public attention to the group’s efforts to prevent the construction of a Formosa plastics factory in the parish. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delayed the company’s “Sunshine Project” for two years while it further studied the environmental impact the plant might have on the region. Last September, however, a Louisiana judge revoked the company’s state-issued permit on the basis of what she described as “environmental justice.” Formosa officials said they would appeal that decision.
The mural project began last spring when the international Cosmic Foundation, Magnify, and Break Free From Plastic asked RISE St. James to participate in a worldwide project using art to draw attention to the proliferation of plastic waste clogging landfills, rivers and oceans. Two other Magnify artists will create attention-grabbing artworks at petrochemical hubs in Taipei, Taiwan, and at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, Belgium. The Cosmic Foundation and nonprofit Plastics Solution Fund are financing the project in St. James Parish.
Willey has painted similar “The Good of the Hive” murals in cities across the U.S. as well as in the United Kingdom and China. His goal is to paint his beehive murals on “every continent and in every type of neighborhood in the world.”
In Louisiana, the implied message in Willey’s mural is simple — in a beehive, as well as in all of nature, there is no waste or overproduction. “Supply and demand” is in perfect harmony. Will or can viewers make the visual link between the beehive mural and the plastics plant? Willey says there is an indirect connection between the two, but equally important, the mural has a more universal message.
“The mural I am going to create is asking the same questions a real beehive in nature would be asking,” Willey says. “‘Is this a healthy environment to create a home? Can we live here and thrive?’ I think the bees will do what they have done everywhere else I have painted them – invite people to think about things like balance, health and the environment. If people happen to find out that there are other solutions they can actively and easily adopt, rather than add to the problem by creating more plastics, awesome.”
Poetics of Selfhood
Creole art from Martinique, Senegal, Guyana and Louisiana, through Jan. 14, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette. acadianacenterforthearts.org
No Man’s Land: Becoming Louisiana
Features four Vernon Parish artists, commemorating 200th anniversary of Louisiana’s western border with Spanish Texas, through Feb. 18. Alexandria Museum of Art. themuseum.org
Artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, through Jan. 14. Louisiana Art & Science Museum, Baton Rouge. lasm.org
Statewide, juried contemporary art exhibition, through Jan. 8. Ogden Museum of Southern Art. ogdenmuseum.org
Loren Schwerd : Mudlark
Three-dimensional designs and sculpture by LSU professor Loren Schwerd, through Feb. 4. Masur Museum of Art, Monroe. masurmuseum.org