Kendra Van Der Merwe


Bachelor of Design Illustration Print Photography Social Design Speculative Aotearoa

Ecosystems are Gold

As a designer and illustrator, the ability to translate concepts into visual imagery in a range of mediums is a rewarding process, particularly when the process involves plants, animals, and creatures. From folktales, whimsical, quirky creatures to geometric patterns I draw from multiple avenues of interest to create characters, creatures, and designs that communicate ideas.

Relationships between people and nature always seem to make an appearance thematically in my personal work, and Symbiosis as a project stands representative of this.

The aim of Symbiosis was the creation of three mandala-inspired designs, with each representing select endemic animals and plants unique to Aotearoa. These designs were intended to draw attention to the connectivity of the plants and animals depicted, their unique naturally occurring relationships, and ignite contemplation and reflection on them.

Focusing on mutualism in pollination and creating a visual space for viewers to reflect on these relationships, were imposed restrictions that challenged the making process. Each design was restricted to the incorporation of one native plant or flower and two to three animals involved in the selected plant’s pollination cycle.

Symbiosis serves to remind viewers of Aotearoa’s unique, rare, and naturally occurring symbiotic relationships to encourage consideration and investigation into how they are connected to us and how they function in contemporary society. Ongoing personal discovery of Aotearoa’s unique fauna and flora fused with research in both Kalachakra mandalas and the Māori belief in life force (mauri), influenced the formation of Symbiosis. Pressing environmental concerns and the implications these have on uniquely occurring phenomena, particularly in Aotearoa, contributed to its creation also.

Detailed, and repetitive elements of each design reflect influence from mandalas conveying deliberate interconnectivity. Each design contains accompanying Latin names, distinguishing between species as a design feature, nodding to scientific and botanical studies. Interwoven, gold foil lines throughout each design are prominent in that they represent the unseen connected life force, mauri – exemplifying the connection among all things and that the value in healthy ecosystems is golden.

Rendering each design was done in pencil based on prior meditative tendencies of the medium, reflecting the meditative practices undertaken during the creations of Kalachakra mandalas. All three original drawings were photographed and reproduced as prints in preparation for screen printing. Individual mauri life force lines were screen-printed onto each print with glue and pressed with gold foil layered on top.