Filipino political and religious figures submerged in underwater procession

(CNN)On long, life-size panels at this year’s Art Basel fair, underwater figures make their way across the screens.

One sports a curly wig and a fringed skirt made of golden foil. Others dress as political and religious figures. Some carry cardboard signs emblazoned with slogans like “Yolanda Survivor” — a reference to the deadly typhoon that rocked the Philippines in 2013.
Dutch-Filipino artist Martha Atienza’s video installation, “Our Islands, 1116`58.4″ 12345`07.0″E,” is a striking artistic spectacle. Its characters’ balletic movements help the viewer feel their struggle for air and the weight of the water above them. But a closer inspection hints at the bigger issues at play.
    “Our Islands” has taken home the Baloise Prize, which is awarded to two young artists in the Statements section (Atienza shared this year’s prize with New York artist Sam Pulitzer).
    Previous winners, such as Haegue Yang, Ryan Gander and Tino Sehgal, have gone on to become big names in the art world.
    Atienza’s art — from sound installations of clanging ships to slow motion footage of tempestuous seas — often directly involves the inhabitants of Bantayan Island.
    The local community informs the artist’s decision-making, as she uses her work to address matters affecting her hometown.

    Changes to island community

    As well as confronting environmental issues, “Our Islands” marks the culmination of a stretch of Atienza’s work inspired by the Ati-Atihan Festival, a traditional feast celebrating Santo Nio (the infant Jesus).
    “No more crazy, elaborate costumes; no more painted rice sacks. Some people don’t even join [in the festival] because they choose to go fishing instead — their families have to eat. Or the others are all abroad. The parade has been shrinking and less colorful, for sure.”
    Putting Bantayan Island’s men and women in her art — where they can, quite literally, see their roles in combating climate change — is an important element of Atienza’s work.
    She has also mentored a group of the island’s youths, helping them to create their own documentation of changes in their hometown.
    “I never looked at coming [to Art Basel] — I was always running from white spaces,” Atienza says.
    “But there are people all over the world who are taking the time to watch the work, and they only want to talk after watching. So I am sharing [our project]. And that’s what its all about: connecting with others and creating dialogue.

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