Keys Couple Uses Art to Inspire Others, Protect Nature
Victoria Cassar and Ian Wilson-Navarro create art that sparks conversations about nature and how to protect it. The couple uses different mediums — sculpture for Cassar and photography for Wilson-Navarro — that complement each other’s work. The pair live in Tavernier and use their home base in the Keys to create art that spreads awareness and moves people.
At the University of Vermont, Cassar double majored in studio art and environmental studies, using art to advocate for sustainability and conservation. She got involved with plastic pollution, deciding one day to fully quit single-use plastics “cold turkey.” Cassar explains, “It doesn’t mean I’m perfect all the time, but I’ve worked really hard to minimize my single use plastic consumption as much as possible. I think it’s really cool that you can quit plastics just like that since many single-use plastics aren’t necessary for a majority of people.”
Cassar stands with her “Plastic Warrior” sculpture made entirely out of plastic pollution collected in the Keys. She exhibited the installation at Keen’s “Art as a Catalyst for Change: Visualizing the Single-Use Plastics Issue” gallery in honor of Conservation
Cassar uses these same pesky single-use plastics in her work, creating three- dimensional art and jewelry from reclaimed materials. By “redesigning excess,” Cassar raises awareness around issues that matter to her: extinction, plastic pollution, and invasive species. She recently was invited by Keen to exhibit in their Denver, CO art gallery “Art as a Catalyst for Change: Visualizing the Single Use Plastics Issue.” Her works communicate the importance of protecting wildlife through collective, conscientious decision-making.
While Cassar uses man-made elements to convey messages of environmental protection, Wilson-Navarro instead focuses on creating images of pristine environments and sustainable ways to interact with them. He’s a self-taught photographer with expertise capturing lifestyle, adventure, fish, and surf. After graduating from Coral Shores High School, Wilson-Navarro honed his craft as a first assistant to professional photographer Mark McInnis, a renowned commercial and surf photographer based on the west coast. He’s traveled across the globe documenting surf, fishing, oceans, and other coastal environments. His works often include wildlife as well as people interacting in these wild places. He intentionally incorporates people in scenes of wilderness and oceans to emphasize the relationship between humans and nature. Wilson-Navarro wants his work to inspire people to get outdoors and connect with nature.
The Keys have been instrumental in the development of both artists’ signature styles. Cassar, originally from New York, moved to the Keys for an internship at Coral Restoration Foundation. Through presentations for CRF, she quickly learned how effective educating the younger generation can be. “They retain so much information. I definitely want to incorporate education into my future endeavors so people leave my events and workshops ready to create change.” Thus, Cassar has broadened her focus to include cleanups, which provide raw materials for many of her sculptures and Zero Waste workshops to help teach others in the community how to make more sustainable choices in their day-to-day lives.
Wilson-Navarro is a born and raised Conch. He credits his surroundings and his family with growing his interest in documenting nature, its wildlife, and the people who enjoy it. “Growing up in the Keys, I was constantly reminded not to take it for granted. There were people — my parents especially — who reminded me how lucky we are to live in a place like this. So, I was instilled with a love for the environment I grew up in, which led me to a broader appreciation of nature in general,” says Wilson-Navarro.
He especially recalls spending his weekends at Molasses Reef, fishing with his dad for mahi offshore. This innate, inherited appreciation for the ocean and its bounty are apparent in Wilson-Navarro’s work. His comfort in the surf and his knowledge of boats and fishermen allow him to articulate intimate connections between the coastal ecosystem and the people living and working in it. He’s recently added conservation filmmaking to his repertoire with a three-part documentary on the ecological importance of prescribed fires in the Everglades. “I want to show people how prescribed fires can be used to combat the ever-growing wildfire season. It’s really interesting, really important work that the Everglades Prescribed Fire Department is doing.”
Most importantly, the couple use their lives in the Keys to witness and express the changes they’re seeing in the environment: the amount of boats, the influx of people, the lack of fish, and the degrading reef. Wilson-Navarro notes, “Just being here to witness the change first hand made me realize what was going on. Moments like these, I do not take for granted. And, I want to help create change.” Cassar agrees, changing lifestyle “might require a little self discipline and thinking ahead, but it’s totally possible.”