Animal poaching is reaching crisis levels in many parts of the world, and many governments and conservation agencies are fighting back with unconventional methods, be it by "big data" drones or by webcams installed directly in a rhino's much-coveted horn.
Desperate times calls for desperate measures, but much can be done to raise awareness on the home front too. Aiming to bring a sobering lesson back home, Dutch artist Kevin van Braak created this life-like and poignant sculpture of a dead elephant, with gaping holes where its tusks once grew.
Van Braak's heart-rending sculpture, Elephant/Oliphant, like many of the horrific photos we see of poaching, delivers a slap in the face -- a violent realization of the abomination of human greed, confronting the viewer in all its force.
Made out of reclaimed teak wood taken from old ships, the wood grays as it ages, making the piece look even more eerily realistic, van Braak carved the sculpture using a variety of real photos for reference, in addition to making various three-dimensional models during the creative process. It must have been a difficult task.
Van Braak also worked with Balinese woodcarvers, who are famous for their skill in the craft, to get the piece right.
There's something about this sculpture that says more than a truckload of photos combined. Placed in a forested area where visitors could actually touch it in person, the elephant's body is bloodless, yet monumental and intimate. This life-size artwork must have moved many to feel the deep despair and pain that so many of this planet's creatures suffer right now.
It may seem paradoxical, but some environmental thinkers believe that it's crucial for us to actually feel this collective anguish in order to transform it into something more empowering. This powerful "despair work" moves beyond the intellectual grasping of our planetary crisis and gets us right in the gut -- and heart, where true transformation begins. I paraphrasing here, but it's been said before that you can't save what you don't empathize with, and art is one tool to fill in this gap.
Elephant/Oliphant was shown as part of the international sculpture festival Lustwarande. Van Braak told us that the piece will eventually be re-installed elsewhere -- details will be forthcoming. Visit Kevin van Braak for more information, and donate to Elephant Crisis Fund and Save The Elephants.