Photographer, author, artist and Grossmont College professor Suda House has captured her journey as a woman, a mother, an artist, and an open-water swimmer. Her works celebrate womanhood and her concern of the degradation of our oceans by climate change and humanity’s pollution. In celebration of Women’s History Month, Balboa’s Museum of Photographic Arts added the works of House with her “Water Holds Me” exhibit, reflects her life journey as a woman, photographer, teacher, and climate activist.
House said since she is mostly a studio photographer, when she came to San Diego to teach, she realized that she needed to find something to do outside the studio and classroom. So, she returned to the water.
“‘The Water Holds Me’ is about my engagement with water,” she said. “I see the ocean, and even the pool, as a visual element for me. Water. I see describing the water. Being a woman, I started describing women in the water and the outcome of that became the making of the “Aqueous Myths and Seven Sisters,” a series on display at the park. They are all done in studio with women posing in a tank. They were about the 1980s and female empowerment. They were about the struggle and the water became the element by which models struggled against. That work is from 1983 through 1987.”
House said when she retired from fulltime teaching, and went parttime, she went back to the ocean to swim.
“I got out of the ocean and I was covered in motor oil from the boats and debris was stuck to me and I said, ‘This is not the ocean I remember from a decade ago.’ I started doing research on how polluted our oceans are and discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It seemed really important to make part of the thrust of work about managing single use plastics that we are inundated with in our society. Because the Aqueous Myths were women named after goddesses and mythological women, I decided I would write a myth. I conjured up this idea of the seven sisters of Pleiades. They are a constellation up in the sky and they were put there by Zeus. Their father Atlas wanted his daughters to be safe, so Zeus made them stars in the heavens. They began to see that the water and the planet is deteriorating from climate change. Because their mother, Pleione was a water nymph they grew up in water. So, they decided to come down from the stars, hide under the garbage patch, and try to clean up our ocean.”
With the series “Saving Grace: Seven Sisters of the Pleiades,” part of the exhibit at MOPA, House continues to share her concerns for climate degradation. Designed for viewers to move through the installation, one is meant to experience the power and flow of the ocean. This brings one closer to the emotional power of House’s seven mythical women who are present before the viewer with the message that the oceans need to be saved now.
House said with that theme, she began creating images about women trying to save the creatures in the water, the corral reefs, turtles, seals, whales, the albatross, and two images on how they could get rid of all the plastic.
“Some of the things that are so bad are the ghost nets, fishing nets that have been lost or abandoned in the ocean, and they get the big animals like whales, porpoises, and dolphins,” she said. “The net bags your avocados and small oranges come in, can get stuck around a seal’s neck, or a turtle. So, there is an image of one of the women trying to pull the net off the neck of a seal. The coral reefs are turning brown, then white. The water is too warm. So, there is diving down to the corral reefs to return nutrients and revitalize them. Turtles think single use shopping bags are jellyfish, so they ingest them, they think they are full, and they die. Albatrosses fly far out into the ocean to feed their babies and eat the tiny plastic particles, then they come back and regurgitate it back into the mouths of their chick. So, there is an image of a woman trying to prevent the bird from eating them. In my myth, she gets them to regurgitate it into her hand and turns them to sand. She is a goddess.”
House said in her myth, the goddesses churn the water and send the particles of plastic up far into space, and the seventh sister, still in the heavens, grabs the particles, and through her powers, heats them up and turns them into a star.
House said in showing students her work at her retirement exhibition, they said they felt bad that they could not do anything to help save the oceans. She said the “sisters” were returning to the stars, and it is up to us to clean up the oceans.
“It requires us to recycle, reuse, and refuse plastics,” she said. “Make the planet better for you because I am 70 plus, and you are 18. You will be here longer than me. We need to become really aware of how much waste, in terms of plastics are out there. I felt so committed to that, at the Grossmont College show, if you gave $100 to the Surfrider Foundation, which cleans up the beaches, I would give one of the images in a tiny print. I raised almost $7,000 for Surfrider. That is how committed I am in my concern for the water being contaminated and polluted.”
House said Jacques Cousteau said our oceans were our sewer.
“I believe he is right,” she said. “Our oceans cannot absorb all this stuff anymore.”
Hailing from East County, House has been a professor of art and photography at Grossmont College since 1980. She earned her undergraduate in two dimensional arts, photography, printmaking and painting at USC, then earned her master’s in fine arts and photography at Cal State Fullerton in 1976.
For more information about the exhibit, visit mopa.org. For more information about Suda House, visit sudahouse.com.
House’s exhibits run at MOPA through Oct. 15.