The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s oldest global organization overseeing the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. In 1964, the IUCN established the Red List of Threatened Species as a critical indicator of the health of the planet’s biodiversity. Half a century later, the list grows longer instead of shorter; at the current progression, 50% of animal species worldwide is heading towards extinction by 2050. Because we share ecosystems with these animals (and plants), our quality of life is linked to and dependent upon them.
Humans are not separated entities in the natural world. Philosophers describe this belief as exceptionalism, which places humans as categorically different from all other animals by their rationality and their ability to manipulate the world. From a theological perspective, this power comes from the notion that humans are the product of special creation by God. However, even in the biblical narrative, God entrusts humans to steward the created world - not to dominate it, much less to destroy it. It is important to reconsider humanity’s role on earth; only when we see ourselves as essentially entangled within the planet’s ecosystem, we will see the urgency of the crisis at hand.
In the US alone, one in four animal species is under threat, from the tiny bee to the massive manatee. And yet, the current administration is rolling back environmental policies; for instance, by limiting federal funding to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). My body of work highlights local and non-local species at risk. This is a global issue, which is reflected by the animals in the series. They are portrayed as majestic and beautiful creatures, as if they belong on the cover of magazines. Graphite and colored pencils allowed me to emulate the alluring and tantalizing style of corporate advertisement. Following one graphic marketing technique, I used black and white as a set up for color to highlight products for consumption, lack of natural habitats, or conceptual props.
The uncanny aspect of the collection comes in the reversal of roles. In my surreal drawings endangered animals take human shape and are empowered as the dominant species. Accordingly, they are entitled to treat human beings as we treat them in the real world. By pushing the imagery to foster an emotional response, my ultimate interest is to explore the way humans handle animals and shape their meaning. The carefully rendered, enticing and whimsical imagery is an entry point to address the horror of animals disappearing from the face of the earth. The beauty of animals needs to be protected. Their beauty juxtaposes the ugliness of the human exploitation of the planet’s resources, of which animals are an integral part.
If we see ourselves as intrinsic members of the earth’s biodiverse ecosystem, then we have to accept our participation in this crisis. Certainly, thousands of species are going extinct because of human activities, but many are disappearing from a lack of attention. This body of work attempts to shine a light onto animal extinction so that many species are not lost to the darkness. It is then up to the viewer to make a change, first by gaining awareness about how our habits and choices impact the world around us and all its creatures, and secondly by acting upon this as individuals and as a society.