The Elephant is Out of the Room

Singapore, Singapore

November 21 – 25, 2011

Who let the elephants out? It seemed that a herd of pachyderms with body art had stampeded all over Singapore – on the sidewalk, at the park, in malls and museums – and had petrified in place. My family and I were delighted to see so many “ele-friends” during our five-day stay in the city.

My sister playing tug-of-trunk with Timeless Chic by Asawin Saeto

The ubiquitous elephant sculptures were, in fact, participating artworks in the two-month Elephant Parade, a touring art exhibition aimed at raising public awareness about the conservation of the endangered Asian elephant. The exhibition was inspired by Mosha, a baby elephant who had lost a leg to a landmine blast. I had heard of her story on Animal Planet years before. Catching this exhibition on its first Asian stop was the next best thing to visiting Mosha in Chiangmai, Thailand.

Artists from around the world were commissioned to render the plight of these gentle giants in their unique ways. The result was a motley menagerie of 162 pachyderm sculptures adorning their host city. We could not see all the exhibition entries, but here are some of the memorable ones we encountered:

Not Forgotten by Michael Han & Kiat

Not Forgotten by Michael Han & Kiat

Sharing the front lawn of Asian Civilizations Museum with Timeless Chic, this sculpture was an understated but no less compelling icon. The monochromatic theme emphasized the lone tear collecting in and falling from its eye, depicting the desperate cry of an orphaned baby elephant for protection against poaching and habitat loss.

Ming Kwan Nakorn Ping by Jharatpong

Ming Kwan Nakorn Ping by Jharatpong

This glittering elephant sculpture by a Thai artist greeted us at the museum lobby. Looking regal and bejeweled, it was densely decked out in Eastern art, symbolizing the elephant’s sacred place in Buddhism and Hinduism.

Translated Vase Baby Elephant by Yeesookyung

Translated Vase Baby Elephant by Yeesookyung

A Korean artist assembled her elephant from discarded ceramic fragments made to fit together like puzzle pieces. She sealed the spaces with gold. The resulting artwork bespoke of the fragmentation of the elephant’s habitat – the disruption of their migration routes and food supply – by urban development and agricultural cultivation, and our responsibility in healing the land we had ravaged.

Triumph of Unity by Sona Mirzaei & Per Hillo

Triumph of Unity by Sona Mirzaei & Per Hillo

A product of American and Danish collaboration, the artwork represented the united voice of these artists from diverse cultural and artistic backgrounds for a common cause. For me, it also spoke of sharing the world with the elephants and not usurping their living spaces. This unity was perfectly captured by the blending color schemes of the sculpture and my sister’s outfit.

Precious by Ahmad Zakii Anwar

Precious by Ahmad Zakii Anwar

The Asian elephant was the king of the jungle in the region for centuries with populations estimated to have reached millions. Poaching, civil war (Cambodia was a prime example), and habitat encroachment had caused the numbers to plummet to about 30,000 at present. How apt it was, then, that this renowned Malaysian artist used Chinese porcelain to represent the fragile survival of the once-mighty Asian elephant in the emerging economies of South Asia.

Bula by Arturo Sanchez, Jr.

Bula by Arturo Sanchez, Jr.

Call me biased, but this sparkling sculpture got the most love from me. Filipino sculptor Arturo Sanchez, Jr. explained that Bula (Tagalog for Bubble) represented both “extinction and survival. I used mirrors to capture the reflection of the audience; I want the viewer to be part of the artwork and make them feel that they also a have role in the awareness campaign of the Elephant Parade. I used light to give the elephant a different look during night time. It serves as a big night light and represents hope for the elephants’ survival.” His work both illuminated and involved its audience – that made the sculpture the crowning jewel of the exhibition for me.

Mom with Bula at the Asian Civilizations Museum

Elephant Parade was also an open air exhibition for the general public, not just museum visitors. We bumped into a herd just outside ION Orchard, an artsy mall on Orchard Road that adopted several sculptures, among them was an ebony-and-ivory pair. Bulan, in white, was a tribute to the collective memory of elephants, carved as it were on solid rock. Sommar, an ele-fun in floral print, was true to its name – summer in Swedish.

The Naughty and the Elephant by Carrie Chau (left) and Bulan by Memento Mori (right)
Sommar by Prints

Even Louis Vuitton got into the spirit of the event. Although not officially a part of the exhibition, elephants did modeling stints in their display windows. Was it the brand’s pro-conservation statement or merely a timely marketing campaign? I didn’t know if LV ever used elephant hide as handbag material.

Elephant Mannequin in Louis Vuitton, ION Orchard

Over at 313@Somerset, the elephant sculptures were decidedly more fun, funky, and flamboyant. No wonder, they were designed by celebrity artists. Singaporean pop singer and playwright Dick Lee was inspired by 80s retro (think Kylie Minogue); he dolled up Zelda Zelliphant in pink zebra print, heart-shaped earrings, and curled lashes. British comedian Ricky Gervais could not contain his droll humor as seen in his elephant in drag, the Halloween-themed Hellaphunt, complete with devil horns and glossy red paint that conjured up a squeaky leather body suit.

Zelda Zelliphant by Dick Lee
Hellaphunt by Ricky Gervais

The exhibition also aimed for audience engagement. Mom tried her hand at designing her own art elephant, a contest that could allow you to see your design on an elephant sculpture in the following year’s exhibition. The finale was a charity fund-raising when the sculptures were auctioned off by Sotheby’s. Part of the proceeds of this exhibition would go to The Asian Elephant Foundation and Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund.

Designing Your Own Art Elephant Contest

Elephant Parade was a feast for the eyes, but it also opened them to see how much of our human enterprise had demanded from the species we shared the planet with. It openly showed the need for conservation, not leave the subject as the elephant in the room. On a grassroots level, we could refuse to purchase items made from ivory and elephant hide or tolerate elephant captivity for our entertainment.

But why should we all care? Because the extinction of the elephants is an indication of the disappearance of our life-sustaining wilderness. And because it is the decent thing to do. My elephant conservationist friend, Jim McIntosh, puts it more poignantly in verse:

Has an elephant emotion?
Do they feel empathy?
Has an elephant compassion?
Do they show sympathy?
We recognise those in each other,
We feel so intimately
But are we so limited in our senses
We don’t see them in other specie?
Read the entire poem in his blog post, Are We Blind?
Not Forgotten

We should not be so arrogantly blind.

49 thoughts on “The Elephant is Out of the Room”

  1. These are lovely work of arts..those are nice elephant sculptures and I like the two elephants, “not forgotten” and yes i maybe bias but I also love the “Bula”. This surely going to give awareness to the people. In Philippines there is only one elephant which is in the Manila Zoo, and she is also endangered dying because of loneliness!

    1. Oh yes, we should not forget Mali. Can you imagine what life must be like for her? Zoos are animal prisons and should be passe by now.

    1. Thanks doc! Haven’t been staying much on FB lately. And I’m hardly on Twitter. Social media burnout, I guess. Gotta stay away for a while to find my center in all this over-stimulation. 🙂

      1. Welcome back! But we’re not really on the same WP platform. I’m a cheapskate, so I’m just using a free account. Still not on your level, doc! 😀

      2. I am using a free account though but will upgrade in say a year or two. I am maximizing this WP experience before I’d purchase a pro.

        I made it a point to grow with my blog and my blog grows with me each step of the way though. At least, that gives me more room to innovate and try new horizons I had not explored and perhaps, momentarily enjoy it. 🙂

    1. Thanks Frank and Gigi. If they were alive, I’d rather see them in the wild, like in a safari, than paraded like that in the city. I’m against using live animals for entertainment, no matter how cute and fun. Killjoy ba?

  2. I love elephants! thank you so much for the virtual tour. im sure pg ako ang nandito tumalon talon na cguro ako 🙂 I love the glittery elephant more. ang sosyal lang 😀

    1. Very regal, di ba? Reminds me of the stupas in Bangkok that are also covered in colorful embellishments.

  3. Age, this was sooo Jumbolicious. I absolutely adore these veggie animals that on seeing the pictures posted by you, I wished to possess every one of the art forms. Thanks for knitting the lovely pictures together in this post. I reckon that this post is strongly held together with these mighty creatures.

    I am always awed by this animal which possesses great strength but at the same time is a very gentle being.

    Joy always,

    1. Jumbolicious! Wow, I haven’t gotten as flattering a comment as that. I can always count on you, Mrs Sus. I also worried that I might fail in “knitting” a cohesive article out of all these photos, but again, you reassured me that I did. I can’t take all the credit here, though. Indeed, “this post is strongly held together with these mighty creatures.” I couldn’t put it more succinctly than that.

      Jumbolicious always,

    1. Mosha (or Mo Cha) is about 7 years old now. Not sure if she’s still at FAE (Friends of the Asian Elephant) Hospital near Chiangmai. Just learned that she’s the first elephant to walk on a prosthetic leg. She’s a survivor. There’s a new docu film about her and other elephants titled “The Eyes of Thailand.” I should check that out.

      Oh, and only the funky would love Zelliphant. 😉

    1. Not so pitiful naman si Mosha. Good thing an animal lover came to her rescue. She was rehabilitated and fitted with a prosthetic leg at FAE (Friends of the Asian Elephant) Hospital. There’s hope for the elephants – and humanity!

    1. I know most people would go for live ones, but that would reek of exploitation. That would be contrary to the message of this exhibition. So for me it’s better to see the art and not make a spectacle out of real elephants.

      The third one is a close second in my fave list. 🙂

    1. Fingers crossed! I just hope the sculptures wouldn’t be vandalized if they’d be displayed on the sidewalk. 😀 The organizers haven’t announced the next host city yet.

  4. Well, here in Thailand, elephant friends are aplenty but I’ve never seen such beautiful elephants before but here in this post. So beautiful elepahants!

  5. What a truly stunning art display and for a wonderful cause! Elephants need our help!
    I think this post is a great way of spreading awareness of the plight of elephants as p[opulation growth places them more under stress in the fight for just room to live!

    1. Thanks for the poem, Jim! It’s the closest I could ever get to an elephant for now (I’ve only seen elephants thrice in my life, two in zoos and one used for begging on the streets of Bangkok). And I think the exhibition considerably heightens that awareness to people like me. It’s more than just abstract statistics. Glad I could do a wee bit for these animals.

    1. Well, our luck is running out of time then because it would just take a few years before the elephants all die out. That’s why we all should put in our little efforts to save them from extinction.

  6. ganda ng artworks! i like the chocolate elephant na may parang gatas na luha. hahahaha.

    but ang ganda nga ng concept of the Pinoy artist. nakakaproud. too bad we didn’t catch this one, I read the date again, last year pa pala ito. hehe 🙂

    1. Buma-backlog lang po. 😀 I still have a lot of unwritten travel stories from last year. They’re all swimming in my head, but I hardly have any time to put them into words.

      Anyway, you can still catch this exhibition. The host city this year is in Belgium or the Netherlands. 🙂

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