Artist and illustrator Tan Zi Xi, formally known as “MESSYMSXI,” blows away audiences with her original environmentalism artwork.
Zi Xi uses her talent as a multifaceted visual artist to create sculptures and illustrations of the impacts of pollution on marine life and the ecosystem of the ocean. Her art activism aligns with the core values of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Climate Action and Life Below Water.
It is Zi Xi’s mission to be an advocate for marine life and ocean conservation. Through her artwork, Zi Xi transports audiences to a world where the ocean is compromised and tainted by human waste. Zi Xi exaggerates the polluted landscape in order for viewers to understand her message: the ocean and its marine life are suffering.
Zi Xi was born and raised in Singapore and later moved to London to attend Central Saint Martins College. In 2008, Zi Xi graduated with a Graphic Design degree and pursued a career in illustration. Growing up, she was greatly influenced by her illustrator and painter father. “He taught me how to work with passion and commitment,” said Zi Xi in an interview with Floating Magazine.
In 2009 Zi Xi had her very first showcase titled, An Effort Most Futile. Her illustrations portray a monochromatic world where pollution is taking over. Garbage manifests into the sea, suffocating marine life and destroying the ecosystem. In one illustration, a woman is hanging over the edge of a rowboat trying to fish out garbage that surrounds her boat. She appears desperate as she immerses a net into the plastic-filled ocean in an effort to clean the water. According to Zi Xi’s artist statement, “The illustrations were meant to enlarge the negative impacts pollution is having on the environment.”
Zi Xi was inspired to create her piece when she was a student living in London. She read about human waste being dumped into the oceans and impacting marine life. This is when Zi Xi decided to utilize her art as a form of environmental activism. “Through my art, I hope to increase awareness about the dire situation our oceans are in and also implore people to evaluate their personal plastic waste generation and disposal habits,” said Zi Xi in an interview with Verve Magazine.
Zi Xi’s most notable work is her large-scale 2016 art installation titled Plastic Ocean.The installation is a walkable exhibit of mountains of plastic products arranged to look like the underbelly of the ocean. The art piece is made up of more than 20,000 pieces of plastic waste and garbage that she collected while in Mumbai. Debris of water bottles, plastic clothing hangers, garbage bags, single-use cutlery and milk cartons all hang from the sky eerily motionless.
According to her artist statement, “Every thoughtless flick of plastic into your dustbin may contribute to the swirling mass of plastic drifting across our oceans.” Plastic Ocean illustrates how engulfed the ocean is by plastic. Viewers are meant to feel overwhelmed by plastic while engaging with the piece. This is meant to reflect the state of the ocean, which is being engulfed by pollution.
Zi Xi’s artwork challenges viewers' daily plastic consumption and encourages audiences to reflect on the common practice of single-use plastic items. The goal is to “reinforce empathy and consciousness for our underwater creatures,” as stated in her artist statement. According to Zi Xi, each piece of plastic included in the sculpture takes approximately 500 to 1,000 years to degrade.
The process for creating her underwater plastic masterpiece included washing and cleaning every collected piece of plastic and sewing it together with individual strings until the desired length. It was important to Zi Xi that each piece was strung at the correct height to give the flowing appearance of the moving ocean. Her inspiration comes from misadventures and the grotesque she said in an interview with Oceanic Global “I pick up on interesting news articles or I come across some documentaries that lead on to more research, and then I build a thought around that,” said Zi Xi.
Ultimately, Zi Xi’s mission is to help visitors reconsider their everyday contribution to ocean pollution and find eco-friendly alternatives that do not jeopardize ocean marine life or biodiversity. “If we humans have already produced more plastic within the past ten years than the whole of the last century,” said Zi Xi in her Instagram post debuting Plastic Ocean.
As human beings, we don’t often consider the impacts of our plastic waste and Zi Xi’s artwork is holding audiences responsible for our effect on Mother Nature. It encourages environmental sustainability due to its thought-provoking nature. She wants to beg the question, “Will this plastic ocean be a microcosm of the future state of our marine landscape?” Zi Xi's objective as a visual artist is not to become famous or a celebrity, but rather to protect the environment, educate the public and make a change.