New mural reminds UBC that the clock is ticking on the fight against rising sea levels

In the Nest’s sustainability corridor, a new mural by UBC students Josianne Assignon and Ana Julia Leon showcases how rising sea levels might appear at UBC.

The artists unpacked their work at the mural's launch on May 22, hosted at the CIRS Policy Labs.

Assignon and Leon were brought onto the project by UBC COP27 delegate and PhD candidate Verónica Relaño-Ecija, who initiated the project as an accessible means of spreading awareness around rising sea levels. The project was inspired by conversations around sustainability at COP27, with rising sea levels emerging as a main issue.

The mural’s creation spanned two years, during which it underwent multiple transformations. Leon showcased early iterations of the project — one version showed ripples of water with varying colours at their centres. Unfortunately, Leon said the ripples ended up appearing “a little more like cells,” and did not communicate the intended message around the urgency of sea level rise.

In another iteration, Wreck Beach sits atop a painted sea, reminiscent of the final piece.

“The reason why the mural is structured with a top and a bottom is because something that was absolutely essential to us and Verónica is that we wanted to show that sea level rise line as accurate to scale as possible,” said Leon.

This idea — meant to convey the stark reality of sea level rise — carried over to the mural’s final version, where the rising sea takes over another familiar space at UBC.

The finished mural depicts IKB in the worst case-scenario, with waters having risen 1.2 metres. Multiple familiar species inhabit the waters, including sockeye salmon and arctic cod, which Assignon explained will face severe population decline by 2100. Also in the waters are various species of kelp, seaweed and coral — all of which are at risk due to climate change.

The Ladner Clock Tower stands behind a group of cedar trees, its face standing out against the bright colours found in the rest of the painting while matching the dark shell of the Pacific Leatherback Turtle.

“I wanted to subtly hint to the fact that we're moving at turtle pace in addressing climate change,” Assignon said.

Another subtle feature is the inclusion of English ivy on the library’s walls — a symbol of the artists and mural being situated on unceded Musqueam land.

“This plant dramatically encroaches on the ability of native species to thrive, just like settler colonialism is often in direct interference with Indigenous sovereignty,” said Assignon.

Assignon and Leon’s mural is personal to the place it inhabits and aims to inspire action to avoid the environmental disasters it portrays.

“I see everyday the power of art in gathering people and making us move through our emotions and create wonderful things,” said Assignon, highlighting the hopeful aspect of the piece.

But while optimistic about our ability to prevent the worst, the artists don’t water down the reality of our situation — the mural’s clock serves as a reminder that time is running out and action is still not happening fast enough.