A New Semiotics of Aquaria?

Banksy’s work gains social media attention as critical gaze continues to be focused on Sea World’s practices with marine life. Central to this criticism is the Blackfish documentary about Tilikum, a captive at Sea World, Forida, who killed a trainer during a public show, shocking a nation in which ‘Shamu is a lovable national icon’ Zimmermann, 2010 . Even if this icon is a fish (aquatic mammal) out of water.

Image: Banksy ‘Anti-SeaWorld Art’

Questioning of the moral, ethical, public and ecological value of aquaria increases with each gallon of seawater on land. Now able to host entire ecosystems on land, it is particularly the large charismatic species who are raising awareness of the inherent trouble with aquaria – it is an oceanic birdcage.

The ‘better good’ assumed of proximity to aquatic life, particularly in childhood, is countered by a volume of captivity that now speaks to incarceration for some. Never is this more the case than in aquaria that push the limits of entertainment and commercialisation.

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