The Fin Arts - Painting a brighter future for an endangered species

✦ “Steven Spielberg has a lot to answer for,” Phuket-based German expat Holger Schwab quips when asked why the worldwide perception of sharks is predominantly negative.

Holger is owner of Sea Bees Diving on the tropical island of Phuket in Thailand and has been a keen diver himself for over 35 years. Along with fellow German expat dive instructor Alex Loew, they have been alarmed to see shark numbers declining off Phuket waters for many years now, something that has been consistent across the world.

As a result, Holger and Alex established The Fin Arts in 2017, a Phuket-based social enterprise that displays and sells shark sculptures, each one handpainted by its growing network of local and international artists, with a percentage of proceeds going to shark and marine conservation projects.

Fin Arts support shark conservation, as featured in Brilliant-Online
Fin Arts support shark conservation

A workshop in the southern area of Chalong affords local resident artists Sunanta Nualsomsri and her sister Saowaluck the creative space to produce the impressive sculptures and it is hoped providing more direct access to the general public will help continue to raise awareness.

The sculptures come in three sizes: 30-centimetre sharks cast in polyresin to decorate desks and shelves; and 100- and 150-centimetre sharks made from fibreglass, statement pieces that The Fin Arts uses to catch eyes at conventions. All designs can be customised in a bespoke manner to the customer’s requirements.

The inspiration for this was provided by the Elephant Parade on display in Chiang Mai in 2017. In a similar vein to The Fin Arts, Elephant Parade exhibits decorated elephant statues to raise awareness of the need for elephant conservation.

The objective is to bring the message of shark conservation efforts into everyday lives, into homes and offices in order to create a conversation, raise awareness and educate people.

“The sculptures are different, unusual,” says Holger. “They often achieve the desired effect of initiating a conversation that can result in a positive impact.”

Shark Guardian is the main conservation project The Fin Arts supports. Its focus is to both educate and establish a meaningful dialogue about these important creatures of the deep. The UK-registered charity collaborates with marine biologists and shark experts to share data and research, visits schools across the world to educate the next generation about the plight of sharks, and petitions and lobbies governments.

Education the key

Although Holger’s reference to Hollywood mogul Spielberg’s role in depicting sharks as villains courtesy of his 1975 blockbuster film Jaws is tongue-in-cheek, there is a simultaneous tone of definite lament and, for him, education is the key driver in effecting change.

“In 35 years of diving I have only ever heard of one serious shark attack on a diver, which occurred in Egypt several years ago,” he says. Indeed, you are far more likely to die from a popping champagne cork, being struck by lightning or a falling coconut from a tree.

“Humans are not part of a shark’s food-chain,” adds Holger, stressing that rare attacks are usually the shark mistaking a human for food, taking a “test bite” but then releasing.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything it is the precarious yet crucial balance between humans and nature. The importance sharks play in the eco-system of the ocean can not be understated, says Holger.