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Healing the waters: The art of Melanie Ariens

October 24, 2019  |  Topics: featured artist

“What we do to the water, we do to ourselves.” – Native American saying

Artist Statement by Melanie Ariens

Take a moment and reflect on our tenuous relationship with water. All life depends on it, yet we often turn our backs to it; polluting it, trying to control it, destroying natural habitats and supporting businesses that want to commodify this shared necessity. In doing this we support a disconnect from nature and the very water that sustains us all.  One way to heal the world is to heal the waters. 

Melanie with “Suck,” made from plastic drinking straws. Photo by Eddee Daniel

Melanie Ariens is a local multi-media artist whose work focuses on the Great Lakes and freshwater issues. She uses art as a tool to create awareness and capture peoples’ hearts around water issues. Often, she uses a simple metaphor to frame how we perceive the state of the lakes, such as in her pieces entitled, Suck, or Tattered.  She creates water shrines and fetish pieces, serving to inspire stewardship for our shared waters, gently urging us all to celebrate and care for it. In the Great Lakes watershed, we have a special opportunity and responsibility to do this, for we are the stewards of the World’s greatest freshwater resource.

Beach installation for We Are Water

Melanie serves as Artist-in-Residence for the Milwaukee Water Commons, which uses art as an engagement tool to develop water leadership deep in the city. She has produced public art, led local community mural projects, and organized the annual We Are Water event, which is an evening inter-arts beachfront celebration of Milwaukee’s waters.  Melanie has also worked on projects such as new, green-infrastructure themed manhole covers for MMSD and the Watermarks project, creating a 9-pillar mural under I-94 with the students of the United Community Center’s Acosta Middle School.

Manhole cover

Water is a great unifier, we all depend on it to live.  In celebrating and honoring water, we celebrate and honor ourselves.       


“Tattered,” denim, grommits, snaps, thread
Pillar mural, detail, Acosta Middle School
“15,000 bottles a second,” mixed media installation, University School
Mono print, pochoir print with wood type
Melanie with shrine in Kinnickinnic River. Photo by Eddee Daniel
Mural on steps, Milwaukee River Dock
30 x 30, mixed media
Half glass series, digital photo
Half glass series, digital photo
“Reliquary,” mixed media installation, Alfons Gallery. Photo by Eddee Daniel
“Water Heals the Mind and Soul,” screenprint


All photos courtesy of the artist, except as noted.

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of posts in The Natural Realm showcasing the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. ~ Eddee Daniel, Preserve Our Parks.