Swimming with Sharks at Alfstad& Contemporary

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Alfstad& Contemporary kicks off its third season with an exhibition entitled Shark Fin Soup from international ocean photographer Bruna Stude, opening tonight with a reception and meet-and-greet with the artist. Through her photographic series and printwork, made in collaboration with Alfstad&’s Chris Schumaker, Stude hopes to bring light to the plight of the ocean’s shark populations, long exploited and verging on devastation.

“Because it’s ‘the predator,’” Stude said wryly, “but if you look at the statistics, it’s really silly.” Only a small number of people die from shark attacks any given year, according to Stude, but more than 100 million sharks are estimated to be killed each year by humans, most for their fins. The disparity makes her question who the predator in this relationship really is, a theme throughout Shark Fin Soup.

The Empty Oceans series, a collection of platinum prints done in the old style, with metals and hand-painted emulsion developed under UV light, showcases the vacant waters in monochromatic stillness, a beauty made haunting when the viewer realizes it’s a graveyard – the whale shark spawning grounds barren at peak season. Taking a trip with a research team, Stude brought her camera. They returned 10 days later without a single sighting.

Hanging nearby, a rare series sees Stude turn her camera upward, peering out of the water and catching the encroaching forms of concrete and steel on the horizon, blurred and looming. “Wherever you are, wherever you look, there’s a manmade object,” Stude said of Seascapes Manmade. “There’s less nature and we are spreading everywhere and I don’t know how we can manage not to create a negative impact.”

But if these are operations in understatement, the flagship installation, “Shark Fin Soup,” hammers the message home in vivid color. Dividing the estimated 100 million sharks killed each year, their fins harvested and the bodies dumped back into the water to die, by 365 and making a print from an up-close image she took of a Grey Reef Shark off the Marshall Islands, Stude recreates a running tally of the day-by-day kill count on each print, resulting in a morbid red-and-yellow tableau dominating the wall. “Red for blood and yellow for shame,” said Stude, consciously echoing the colors of the Chinese national flag, a country she says is responsible for 90% of sharks harvested. “It’s a cruel practice,” she said. “And for what? Soup?”

“People don’t know how threatened they are,” added Stude, “how many species are on the brink of extinction.”

Shark Fin Soup opens tonight at Alfstad& Contemporary with an opening reception at 5:30-8pm, with Stude in attendance. The exhibition runs until Oct. 30.

Pictured: "Shark Fin Soup" by Bruna Stude. Courtesy of: Alfstad& Contemporary

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