Gazing at a hulking containership, an observer can't tell whether the ship is carrying cars, computers, or kumquats. Last summer, the CMA CGM Gemini left Oakland, Calif., with a different load entirely—an Asian-American graphic artist named Gabby Miller.
By the time she arrived in Xiamen, China, Miller had created a project titled "Turquoise Wake (Coal, Air, Chicken & S---)" that explores the movement of goods and people across the sea.
On display until recently at an Oakland art gallery, the collection includes paintings Miller made with heavy crude oil from the ship's engines, photographs and videos she took at sea, and the sculptural piece "609 Containers (1967)," a pile of small-scale ceramic re-creations of shipping containers.
Like any mariner, Miller struggled with the monotony of the 21-day crossing, with the additional challenge of being the only woman on a ship with 30 sailors, she told California public television station KQED.
The men accepted her as a welcome distraction from their four- to nine-month stints, however, and she built on that trust when she began painting portraits of the ship's chef, various crew members, and the loved ones they missed at home. Working from an ad hoc art studio in the 1,250-foot ship's swimming pool room, she soon found there were other artists on board. Together, the group began to meet and paint after dinner, and by the end of the trip had created enough items for a floating art show.