In October 2017 I attended the Mermaids, Maritime Folklore and Modernity Conference in Copenhagen. I’m currently working on a book of personal essays about mermaids in contemporary culture. This project started as my long overdue think-piece about the movie Splash but quickly became something much bigger and my research has many tendrils.
At the conference, I presented a paper about mermaid imagery in the work of Feminist artist, Alexis Hunter, one of many talented souls employed to paint cells on Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Hunter quipped of her work on the film, “I painted the foam.”
The conference had many fascinating presentations by other academics from around the world like Doctor Jennifer Kokai, author of Swim Pretty: Aquatic Spectacles and the performance of Race, Gender and Nature. The mermaid conference even had a keynote speech by Claire La Sirene, the first French mermaid performer. I’m still processing the overall experience: moon pools, abandoned 1950s water parks and low visibility dives in aquariums. Mermaids are much deeper than you might think.
And yes, I saw her, sitting on her rock of ages. I learnt a bit more about the history of vandalism attached to the infamous Little Mermaid statue. In May 2017 the statue was doused in red paint as a protest against the tradition of drive hunting pilot whales in the Faroe Islands. The statue has had her head cut off before too. Poor thing.
In the era of post-truth and climate change, the mermaid has become a powerful symbol of conservation.