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Background and context to the Hydro-rug

Almost three decades have passed since South Africa became a democracy, yet the history and legacy of Apartheid continues to have an effect on Black and Brown bodies. Exclusions from ocean spaces and education through various racist laws still have a hauntological impact on all who inhabit the country. The act of sharing our stories as we stitch our hydro-rugs is how we collectively heal from our traumatic past through embodied, processual knowledge-making practices.

Aaniyah Martin has been registered as a doctoral student with the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University and her research practices have included strandlooping (beach walking), swimming, kayaking along the False Bay coastline from Cape Point to Hangklip. Furthermore, she is collectively mending a social sculpture entitled the Hydro-rug and engaging in citizen-led public storytelling around invisible and erased histories and relationships local South Africans have with the ocean, with the explicit aim to surface new care practices related to the ocean. Aaniyah will invite people to share their stories with her while simultaneously creating and sewing a collective hydro-rug, a patchwork quilt of all the stories of people, land and sea.

What is hydro-rugging:

The concept of hydro-rugging shares multiple threads and tributaries. The word hydro is of Greek origin and means water and is used here to refer to the hydrological cycle. The ocean watery body forms part of the hydrological cycle and the beach becomes a specific area and place from which we begin our healing and mending process. The Beach Co-op was established in 2015 as a community led initiative to collectively take responsibility for our marine environment by hosting regular beach cleanups. This surfaces from a need to care for a place we love and to include others in joining our beach clean up missions. In a South African context the beach is a place that is politically riddled because of access and as a result the degree to which Black and Brown bodies feel like they belong on certain beaches or not; because they were previously demarcated for White people only. This has also affected Black and Brown bodies ability to feel comfortable with being immersed in water – for example swimming, snorkeling, diving and surfing.

The hydro-rugging is an extension of these clean ups because we re-use the litter that we find to create hydro-rugs with off-cut or discarded cloth from upholstery factories, thread, needles, hands, ears and hearts. This process of mending wounds, which stem from Apartheid laws that we carry as scars on our Brown and Black skins with the superficial elation of a ‘rainbow nation’, is experienced through stitching, re-membering and listening to each other’s stories.

The ocean has become a rubbish dump for humans and by cleaning our ocean we are not only caring and healing the ocean but the more-than-human entities that reside there too. We are cleaning, mending and using ancient salty ocean remedies to clean our wounds so that they may heal and no longer ooze with the pain of colonial history.

Blue watercolour brush stroke illustration.

How can you get involved

The Hydro-rug is currently floating from the University of Cape Town to Rhodes University and then across to Canada. It will return to South Africa in March 2024. Whilst it is adrift it will be open to you engaging with it and sharing your ocean memories if you feel moved to do so.

Follow these steps:

  1. Download and sign this form. Once signed please email this to along with the outputs in steps five and six below.
  2. Choose a piece of square cloth that you will sew your litter pieces on to.
  3. Choose a few pieces of litter.
  4. Using needle and thread provided to stitch the litter onto the square cloth.
  5. Whilst doing this think about an ocean memory and what the ocean means to you. If there are a few of you, you could share your memories together and record the conversation. Email your individual Voice Note or group discussion to
  6. Take an image of the completed hydro-rug and email this as well
  7. Place your completed hydro-rug in the suitcase.
Blue watercolour brush stroke illustration.

Themes that have emerged:

Aaniyah continues to learn with Black and Brown bodies by hosting group and individual hydro-rugging events. She has worked with the Youth Visions for Climate Change group, Waves for Change coaches, The FisherChild Projekt, Surf Pop and individuals that visited the EITZ Zero Gallery between August and November 2022 when the Hydro-rug debuted as part of the ‘Our ocean is sacred you can’t mine heaven’ exhibition. She will continue to host events and focus on working with Black and Brown bodies and their connection to the ocean.

From these groups the following themes have emerged:

How feeling safe drives our dreams

Set in the famous beach in the Eastern Cape, a Waves for Change coach walks down memory lane and tells us about his first experience in the ocean with his dad, how he felt that day and how that has played a significant role on the decision’s he has made about his career.

Photo credit Faine Loubster

Not letting fear win

After witnessing a traumatic event during a traditional ceremony in Gatyana, Eastern Cape, a Waves for Change coach has feared the ocean ever since. The tide turned when he found safety in community at Monwabisi Beach in Cape Town.

Clean beaches are safe beaches

Located at Fish Hoek beach, we hear from a SurfPop participant why clean beaches matter and what we need to do.

What the ocean says to me

An honest reminder of what the ocean is, its power to take, as well as to protect.

Learning to listen to the ocean’s call

We hear how memories from the beach turned from negative to positive, by listening to the oceans call.

You are brave!

After the tragic loss of a friend to the ocean, being able to spend time in the ocean takes bravery.

Photo credit Faine Loubster

How things have changed

Hearing from the youth how much fish stocks have decreased and what the oceans means to someone who fishes.

Photo credit Faine Loubster

Listen to your intuition

How the ocean makes you feel safe enough to be you, and gives you space to become bigger and better, and true and kind to yourself.

This project has the potential to flow beyond South African borders and has already included stories from across the world as the hydrological cycle has no boundaries, much like our colonial history. The stories re-membered and shared amongst South African Black and Brown bodies echoe from other parts of the world and this becomes a healing practice for human and the more-than-human entities as we share our stories, listening and acknowledging them. We are not only healing ourselves in this process but by removing litter from our oceans we are also healing our oceans.