To say that I am late with my blogging is certainly an understatement so instead of making up excuses and providing an explanation I will go straight into telling about my latest work. I have no holiday this summer, not in the purest sense, as my part time MA stretches right through the season as “term 3”. This is my chance to do some preliminary research and test out ideas for my major MA project. My chosen topic is travel and I kept it deliberately loose so as to be able to chop and change according to where the research takes me, but more about that will follow as an additional post once I’ve handed in work for assessment.
Alongside my course work I decided to respond to a call for art to be auctioned in aid of an animal conservation charity. #sketchforsurvival is a call to artists and famous people to donate a 26 min sketch which will be auctioned by the charity later this year, but not before all the donations are shown in exhibitions in London and the New York. It is 26 minutes because that is how often an elephant is poached for its tusks in the wild. The deadline for submission of work was the 31 July and a list of all artworks will be available online (link here). I donated 2 pieces, a watercolour of an Amur Leopard and a print of a digitally manipulated linocut featuring the sweet Pangolin. Both pieces required quite a bit of research, especially the Pangolin which appears to be a little-known animal, certainly compared to how endangered it has become through poaching.
The point of my post today is to tell you about the Pangolin and ask you to please spread the word about the terrible situation this poor creature finds itself in. If you find it in your heart to do even more and donate to animal conservation charities (note that I am not pointing you towards any specific one, just choose the one whose aim and methods align best to your beliefs) or to simply purchase work in aid of such charities then even better.
The pangolin is the most wanted animal on the black market at the moment. Apparently “A pangolin is taken from the wild every 5 minutes” and statistics suggest that around 300 pangolins are poached every day. Ironically, this is worse than the elephant that inspired the 26 minutes sketch idea! Sadly, all 8 existing species in the world range from vulnerable to critically endangered. Research into the trafficking routes point to a particularly large demand for pangolin in China, so there is little wonder that the Asian species are all critically endangered. Demand has now spread to Africa, with the effect that African pangolins have quickly had to be added to the endangered species list. “Up to 2.7 million pangolins are harvested illegally every year in central Africa”. According to the WWF “They certainly are one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and, increasingly, Africa. [...] Based on reported seizures between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 116,990-233,980 pangolins were killed, which represents only the tip of the trade. Experts believe that seizures represent as little as 10 percent of the actual volume in pangolins in illegal wildlife trade.”
The pangolin is the only truly wholly scaly mammal. Its scales are made from keratin, the same as human nails and thought to have medicinal properties (which modern medicine has not found true). They represent one of the reasons why this shy, withdrawing and super cute creature is heavily poached and trafficked without scruple. The other is their meat and, believe you me, the image of a tiny baby pangolin floating in some rich person’s soup bowl just so they can boast about their buying power will never leave me (perks of some of the research material I came across). However, instead of me telling you about it and you taking my word for it, please head to the latest BBC2 programme website (link here) – “Pangolins. The World’s Most Wanted Mammal” - and try to watch the programme on catch up or at least see some of the shorter clips available on the site?! You’ll soon build your own picture of a cute defenceless and totally inoffensive creature going about its business and unfortunately subjected to a treatment that is wholly unjustifiable. No reason is reason enough for such cruelty and our focusing our attention on it could educate people and force change.
In case you are interested in further research and for complete transparency on my sources, from which I quoted facts and figures above, a list of websites I consulted and a link to my Pangolin Pinterest page are available at the end of this piece.
My response to the project once I learnt about it and looked at the WWF endangered species list was to spend around 5-6 weeks reading up on pangolins, watching the BBC2 documentary and other clips online and doing quick sketches or trying out ideas of how I might represent it. I was surprised to see how little we know about this animal and how very few good reference images there are out there. Other artworks I saw used similar image references as those I had chosen and so I became a little wary of the repetition. While I am all about adding emphasis to the message, I am also one for doing something a little different so you have a chance to stand out. In the end, after sketches and a collagraph plate featuring tree climbing pangolins, I chose to focus on a pangolin rolling into itself for safety, which is the only method of protection they have and the way Honey (the pangolin featured in the BBC2 documentary) was saved by her mother who had been very badly treated. To me, that act of rolling into itself for protection was more poignant than any other, not least because while rolling in a pangolin will expose its tummy, the only part of its body that is not covered in scales and hence, in my opinion, its most vulnerable spot.
And now, for my reference list, as promised: