Songs of the sea: Napier artist Cinzah Merken gives a voice to the ocean

by Vivienne Haldane / 08 October, 2017

The tentacles of a giant octopus wrap around the National Aquarium in Napier, part of a large-scale mural created by local artist Cinzah Merkens (pictured left) and Canadian Jason Botkin.

Cinzah Merkens describes himself as an “artivist”: an artist who paints for a cause. “It allows me to give voice to something that I believe in,” he says.

As part of the first Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans festival held in Napier last year, Merkens collaborated with Canadian artist Jason Botkin to create this bold mural on the National Aquarium. An octopus wraps its giant tentacles around the curved building, and the dramatic stare of a New Zealand longfin eel – an endangered species – eyeballs passersby. Merkens, who painted the eel, says it’s a species he feels particularly drawn to.

“I guess it goes back to catching eels when I was young; my poppa had tyre traps at the bottom of his section.”

The festival, which was held again in March this year, is run on a volunteer basis and features 53 local and international artists. Rather than being a harbinger of doom, Merkens says, the murals aim to bring a message to the streets – encouraging people to seek solutions for the plight of our oceans. The project is the initiative of the PangeaSeed Foundation, a global organisation that addresses environmental issues such as overfishing, climate change, habitat loss and pollution (pangea is derived from the Greek for “entire earth”).

Merkens moved to Hawke’s Bay from Auckland with his wife and two children, and when he was asked to launch PangeaSeed in New Zealand, he knew he’d found the perfect location. “I thought, ‘Man, this place is beautiful, there’s no shortage of walls and it’s right on the coast.’”

At the first Sea Walls festival, held in Mexico in 2014, he swam with “bus-sized” whale sharks and worked alongside some of his idols, including graffiti and street artists. His passion for making art with meaning has taken him all over the world – most recently to Estonia, where he joined 60 “transgrafiti” mural artists for Mextonia, a festival marking the country’s centennial celebrations and its cultural connections with Mexico.

A map of the Sea Walls murals in Napier is available from the i-SITE Visitor Centre on Marine Parade and also at

This was published in the September 2017 issue of North & South.


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