The Science Without Borders® Challenge has been an incredible success this year, attracting a staggering 1,200 artworks from 67 different countries, all centered around the theme of “The Sixth Extinction” for which students depicted endangered marine organisms. Though admiring the creative and artistic pieces was undoubtedly a highlight, my personal favorite aspect of the contest is the opportunity to engage with the winners, their teachers, and their families. This year was no exception.
This year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yanjun Mao, the first-place winner in the category for students 11-14 years old, and his art teacher Wei Lei. Yanjun is a ninth-grade student who attends Beijing World Youth Academy, a day school for Chinese and foreign students in Beijing, China.
During my conversation with Yanjun, it became evident that his enthusiasm for art and his profound adoration for the ocean were inseparable from his creative endeavors. As our discussion unfolded, I discovered that Yanjun’s artistic journey began at the young age of seven, and he has been dedicated to the craft ever since. He tirelessly hones his skills through formal art education at school and supplementary after-school programs.
In his own words, Yanjun shared, “ I feel very happy creating art because I can express my inner feelings freely. I especially love the ocean and drawing marine life ” His fascination with the marine world is beautifully reflected in the way he meticulously draws marine creatures, breathing life into his creations.
Learn more from my interview with Yanjun about what he learned from this experience, why he wants others to learn about endangered marine species, especially sea turtles, and so much more. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
AN INTERVIEW WITH YANJUN MAO
Q: Why are you excited to win this art contest?
A: It was such a surprise and winning the prize meant that my hard work was recognized which means a lot to me. When I read up on this year’s Science Without Borders® Challenge theme and the rules of the competition. The first image that came to my mind was the beautiful turtles. Because I’ve loved them since I was a kid, and their shells are so beautiful. At first, I had no idea how to show the beauty and importance of endangered marine life. So, I went over and over in my head how to compose the picture. Finally, I decided to depict the swimming turtles in the picture and decorated their bodies with gold powder paint. I did not expect my idea and performance to be recognized by the organizing committee. I was pleasantly surprised.
Q: What inspired you to create your art piece?
A: My artwork is inspired by a story I loved as a child called “Turtle’s Tears.” Although I now know that a turtle’s tears are a way of expelling excess salt from his body, the story left a deep impression on me. When I decided to paint a picture of two turtles. The story became my inspiration. I enlarged the turtle tears into the tears of the earth and used them as the background to make the picture seem more profound.
Q: Why is the ocean important to you?
A: Whenever I stand by the sea, I always imagine the amazing marine life on the bottom of the ocean, but with 90 percent of the large fish populations depleted and 50 percent of the coral reefs destroyed, we are taking far more from the ocean than it can supply. To protect the ocean and all that it supports, we must create a new balance based on a true understanding of the ocean and humanity’s relationship to it. We must learn from the past and connect with the ocean in inclusive and innovative ways.
Yanjun’s deep affection for the ocean originates from the cherished moments he has spent on the local beaches of China with his family.
Q: What do you want people to get out of the artwork you created?
A: The carapace of the hawksbill sea turtle is beautiful. This has led to a continuous decline in the number of hawksbill sea turtles, and there is a danger of extinction. The background is a tearful eye, and the eyeball is the earth, symbolizing the ocean. The ocean is the home of the hawksbill sea turtle. The ocean has witnessed all the history of the hawksbill sea turtle. not only the importance of this species but also witnessing the killing of many hawksbill sea turtles by humans.
This evidence proves that the earth is facing the sixth mass extinction. Hawksbill sea turtles are just one of them.
The water drop represents the sorrow of the turtle. The sun’s light in the distance represents hope for the future because human beings have realized the importance of protecting marine life.
Q: What did you learn by participating in the Science Without Borders® Challenge?
A: I learned about the importance of the ocean to human beings. The importance of human caring for nature and the importance of persistence. I am willing to work for the protection of the ocean.
Yanjun’s Winning Artwork
ARTIST’S STATEMENT: The carapace of the hawksbill sea turtle is beautiful. This has led to a continuous decline in the number of hawksbill sea turtles, and there is a danger of extinction. The background is a tearful eye, and the eyeball is the earth, which symbolizes the ocean. The ocean is the home of the hawksbill sea turtle. The ocean has witnessed all the history of the hawksbill sea turtle. not only the importance of this species but also witnessing the killing of many hawksbill sea turtles by humans. This evidence proves that the earth is facing the sixth mass extinction. Hawksbill sea turtles are just one of them. The water drop represents the sorrow of the turtle. The light of the sun in the distance represents the hope of the future because human beings have realized the importance of protecting marine life.