Skin of the Game
Skin of the Game
Africa‘s „Big Five“
Artwork for the final diploma exam at the Kunstschule Wien (Vienna School of Art) With origins in big game hunting in Africa, the term “Big Five” relates to the elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard. Poaching, anthropogenic changes in their specific habitats, combined with long-lasting climate change effects have immensely interfered with the population of the “Big Five” as well as other species of this continent. Since its inception in 1949 and in cooperation with local and international interest groups, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) has observed the development and progress of animal populations. Depending on each species status, it lists them in seven categories, such as LC (Least Concerned), NT (Near Threatened), VU (Vulnerable), EN (Endangered), CR (Critically Endangered), EW (Extinct in the Wild) and EX (Extinct). The IUCN also publishes the so-called “Red List” of endangered species. In prehistoric times, at the end of the Paleolithic period, regions of North Africa experienced climate changes that had similar profound impacts on the “Big Five” living there. During this time period, climate changes led to disappearance of “the Big Five” in this part of Africa along with the prevailing fauna. Rock paintings and rock carvings found in the mountain and desert states of the Maghreb provide proof of the rich and diverse animal population that had previously called this region home. The work “Africa‘s Big Five – Skin of the Game” tries to build a bridge over 10,000 years of art and contemporary history. The narrative intends to analyze and show impacts to the animal population caused by continuous interference by poaching, habitat changes currently occurring and consequentially what impacts can be expected in the future. A short abstract pertaining to “The Animal in Art” rounds off and concludes the narrative part. The artistic interpretation of the topic in form of painted skin structures of the “Big Five” stands allegorically for the expression “Skin of the Game”. The hoof and paw prints symbolize the transient and fleeting nature of any creature similar to the fossilized footprints we find today from long extinct dinosaurs. Bernhard Cociancig Vienna, February 2019
Foto © www.wildlifeplanet.net
Foto © Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images
Editorial Pictures like these are shocking and get under one‘s skin. The pursuit and brutal killing of animals by poachers who later sell parts of the prey as highly-prized goods through illegal trade channels provide painful, excruciating deaths to individuals and can lead to mass mortality of whole animal herds due to starvation when poaching and climate changes effects act in concert.
Approximately 10,000 years ago, at the end of the Paleolithic, the inhabitants of North Africa lived in an entirely different environment compared to today’s arid sites: rain forests, green savannahs and plenty of water formed an ideal habitat not only for mankind but also for the animals living in it. Rock paintings from this era provide evidence that the “Big Five” together with a variety of other wildlife formed a species-rich fauna.
Although international institutions have addressed and condemned these malpractices and injustices for a long time, next to nothing has changed – in fact quite the opposite is seen: the worldwide trade with ivory flourishes with the USA identified as the second largest recipient of such contraband, second only to China. Despite increasing pressure, Great Britain has still not issued a general ban on ivory trade. So it continues that due to poaching activities, every hour three elephants are killed 1 in cruel and barbarous ways, which has led to the demise of half of the elephant population in the last ten years 2, 7. In most cases, poachers remove only the ivory tusks from the corpses and leave the carcasses to rot. In very rare cases, the meat is purposefully used as bush meat for protein provision. Despite its proven inefficiency, rhino horn is still sold as an expensive medicine in Southeast Asia.
The question of what climate conditions caused the disappearance of the lush vegetation and the subsequent desertification has not yet been entirely clarified. It is however certain, that the habitat for the autochthonous wildlife was destroyed. This event created territorial pressure and caused habitat and species migration southwards into central and South African regions. Rock paintings of subsequent periods show not only the appearance of the referenced animals but also clear indications of subsequent domestication and usage of pastures by humans.
The agreement of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), as it was entered into under the auspices of the Washington Convention, is well intended and is an appropriate route. However, in the meantime, it has proven to be a rather toothless attempt in most cases to prevent any criminal trade. The IUCN has adopted global topics of environmental and species protection and issues. Other reports include the so-called “Red List” of endangered species in flora and fauna. My work focuses on the “Big Five” (elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard) representing an allegory of the general threat to the African wildlife. Rock paintings bear witness that the “Big Five” with other species of African fauna were native to North African regions long before our era. The animals along with the respective flora lost their habitats and experienced local extinction due to climate change effects, virgin forests and savannahs turned to uninhabitable deserts. Today, a similar situation seems to be developing: African wildlife stands in permanent and stark competition to the fast growing population, their agriculture and industries. For both sides, essentially a single resource counts: water.
The importance of these rock paintings was recognized during an expedition by Leo Frobenius 3, 4, 5 in 1931-32 when the paintings were systematically cataloged. The paintings represent the first known artistic approach and record on the topic of “animals in fine arts”. While the interpretation and temporal classification at that time has been refined and improved through new insights 6, most of theories and considerations stipulated back then by Frobenius remain generally valid to this day. Since wildlife inventory in Africa is systematically controlled and analyzed, the decline of essentially all species in most parts of this continent are occurring in spite of the protection programs currently in place. Halting their habitat loss due to poaching and climate change appears to be difficult or not at all possible - the animals bring their skin to the market – literally it is “Skin of the Game”. Will our children and grandchildren be the last generations able to enjoy these animals roaming freely in their habitat? Or will - as happened with the dinosaurs - their footprints be the only remaining testimonial of their former existence?
Literature references at the end of the brochure
Skin Texture - oil painting, soil dry pigment (sanguine/ sienna – fixated) on canvas; 120 x 90 cm [47¼ x 35½“] (2018) Footprints - Mokulito print on canvas, 40 x 90 cm [15¾ x 35½”] (2018)
Skin Texture- mixed media, soil dry pigment (umbra – fixated) on canvas; 120 x 90 cm [47¼ x 35½“] (2018) Footprints - Mokulito print on canvas, 40 x 90 cm [15¾ x 35½”] (2018)
Pelt Texture - oil painting, soil dry pigment (sanguine/ ochre – fixated) on canvas; 120 x 90 cm [47¼ x 35½“] (2018) Hoofprints - Mokulito print on canvas, 40 x 90 cm [15¾ x 35½”] (2018)
Skin, Hide, Hoofs and Paws In the artistic transformation of the topic, the painting process focused on authentically rendering the skin and hide textures of the “Big Five” but abstained from painstakingly painting every single hair of the pelt or every single crease of the skin. A large number of material and application tests were required, but finally it was decided (except for the rhino) to use oil paints: after application of the skin-colored acrylic background, they allow the introduction of an optically and haptically satisfactory texture mimicking the skins and pelts of the animals. Of particular challenge was the rendering of the rhino skin with its irregular shaped, earthy and scaly texture. Only after extensive research, numerous application tests and the use of unconventional materials (in combination with Acrylic paint), satisfactory results were achieved.
Pelt Texture - oil painting, soil dry pigment (sienna/ochre – fixated) on canvas; 120 x 90 cm [47¼ x 35½“] (2018) Pawprints - Mokulito print on canvas, 40 x 90 cm [15¾ x 35½”] (2018)
Pelt Texture - oil painting, soil dry pigment (ochre – fixated) on canvas; 120 x 90 cm [47¼ x 35½“] (2018) Pawprints - Mokulito print on canvas, 40 x 90 cm [15¾ x 35½”] (2018)
The use of dry earth pigments (ochre, sienna, sanguine and umbra) rubbed onto the canvas before being fixated represents the earthiness of the African soils on which the animals live. The tracks of the “Big Five” were printed on canvas using latex stamps produced from positivenegative casts of the hoof and paw prints in mokulito technique: the print technique is similar to the lithographic printing process but plywood was used instead of the litho stones. This technique, originally developed by Seishi Ozaku, a Japanese graphic artist, is relatively unknown and can hence be considered to be still in an experimental stage. Quite a number of trialsand-errors were required before achieving a satisfactory result. One of the problems was the use of canvas as a print medium: since the printing process is a rather “wet” affair, the canvas gets soaked, shrinks and mounting it properly on a frame proved difficult.
(Loxodonta africana) Numerous censuses carried out Africa-wide over the last years (Great Elephant Census – GEC, carried out and financed by dozens of NGOs including Elephants Without Borders – EWB, IUCN, WWF) show an alarming state with the number of elephants shrinking by 140,000 animals, this represents a 30% decline 8 in the total population between 2007 and 2014. With that large decline their population will not be able to recover from within. The main cause for the rapid decline was and remains poaching. This is true even in protected areas and national parks that often cannot be properly controlled and policed due to their size and/or location in countries whose governments are hamstrung through precarious political situations or the omnipresent corruption. Poachers focus mainly on elephants for their ivory tusks while the meat of the poached animals is mostly left behind rotting instead of being used as “bush meat” protein for the often malnourished population 9. On the other hand, elephants have a significant impact on their habitat and its vegetation due to their requirement of large amounts of water and forage, materially burdening the growth of trees and agriculture. When overpasturing by elephants and cyclical climate changes coincide, previously fertile territories can quickly change to steppe and then deserts. About 1,500 years ago (~ 600 CE) such habitat loss and desertification caused the disappearance of the elephant in North Africa 10, 14. The expected and accelerating human population growth in Africa makes it obvious that rising competition for resources “water” will ultimately cause conflicts – between humans as much as animals 11, 12, 13. The IUCN categorizes the presence of elephants in Africa as VU – Vulnerable. In order to protect the African elephant population, the international community has included the African Elephant in the Appendix I of the Washington Convention (CITES). With this designation any international and commercial trade with ivory and other elephant products is illegal. However, the participation of states to this convention is voluntary, the agreements and ratifications become enforceable and legally binding only if and when the individual governments issue national laws to this effect. Countries such as Great Britain have ratified the agreement, but have so far abstained from issuing a national law – and with that CITES loses the necessary bite and teeth to become widely effective.
Picture Left Side Elephant Herd Intaglio print from manually engraved aluminum plate with Chine-collé 20 x 30 cm [7 7/8“ x 11 7/8“] (2017)
Diceros Bicornis (Black Rhinocerus) Ceratotherium simum (White Rhinocerus) Two rhino species are native to Africa: the black rhino and the white rhino. The expression “white” stems from a mistake in translation from the Dutch language, which has named this species “Wijd mond rhino”= broad mouthed rhino, in contrast to the tipped mouth rhino which belongs to a different variety and has a finger-formed upper lip (similar to the elephant). Despite their very similar skin color and texture, these rhinos are quite different with regards to body structure, weight, preferred habitat and temperament. Rhinos may have a clumsy appearance, but they are fast and can run up to 55 km/h (35 mph). They have bad eye sight but their senses of hearing and smell are very well developed 15. Rhino skin looks like armor and is very thick, particularly around the shoulders to protect against injuries. However their skin is quite sensitive to UV radiation and extended exposure to sunlight can cause sunburn. For protection they wallow in mud to provide the skin with a protective layer of dried mud. Parasites and ticks that settle in the rhinos’ skin are picked out by yellow- or red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus africanus or Buphagus erythrorhynchus) in a symbiotic relationship. Positive efforts to manage rhino populations include immobilization and relocation of rhinos from increasingly populated areas has prevented conflict between humans and animals and has also supported stabilization of rhino populations 16. Devastating to the rhino is poaching for the use of rhino horn in Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM), use in the traditional Middle East dagger handle and the recent introduction as a (entirely ineffective) cancer medication – rhino horn consists of keratin which is exactly the same material as hair and finger nails. Authorities’ use of innovative DNA analysis and forensic methods to track and trace poached animals and illegal trade has led to several, but still too few arrests 17. Lacing rhino horn with dyes or chemicals which are harmless to the animal but toxic for humans have proven ineffective, since poachers care not whether people’s lives thousands of miles away are endangered 18. The IUCN estimated a White Rhino inventory of some 20,000 animals in 2010, this is categorized as NT – Near Threatened. The Black Rhino with an
inventory of less than 5,000 in 2010 is ranked 19, 20 as CR – Critically Endangered. These rhino species have existed on the continent since the Late Miocene, that is for 6 million years. Considering that the 1960 count was 850,000 rhinos there was a reduction of 97% of the population by 2010 mostly through reckless poaching and habitat loss. Continued poaching is likely to reduce the population even further 21 since officially sanctioned sale of rhino horn is progressively constrained by CITES endeavors: in South Africa alone the loss of rhino horn sales has caused a loss of income of some 25 million US-Dollars in 2015 – consequently, police and park rangers have reduced their rhino protection and the illegal trade for horn flourishes. Considering that a 4 kg (9 lbs) rhino horn can fetch some 100,000 USD on the black market, the temptation for poachers is huge. Rhino horn re-grows if cut off some 10 cm (4 inches) above the roots – many parks and zoos try to protect their rhino herds with this de-horning method. However, de-horned rhinos still tend to get killed by poachers: to save them time and future futile efforts they kill these animals which have no more value for them. The IUCN reports that poachers kill approximately 1,400 animals annually and this has shrunk the rhino population by 30% over three generations 22.
Picture Left Side Rhinocerus Herd Intaglio print from manually engraved aluminum plate with Chine-collé 20 x 30 cm [7 7/8“ x 11 7/8“] (2017)
(Syncerus caffer) The Ancient Buffalo (Bubalus Antiquus or Syncerus Antiquus 23, 24) has been often depicted on rock paintings and can according to Leo Frobenius 4: Hadschra Maktuba, p.45 ff “…definitely be identified as a diluvial species; [it] is confirmed through numerous fossil finds for the younger Quaternary and has, limited to North Africa, not survived the referenced period”. Other sources place the occurrence of the Ancient Buffalo more exactly towards the end of the Plio-Pleistocene in the Quaternary corresponding to the period between 10,000 and 8,000 years BCE. The melting of huge ice masses which persisted until the mentioned period coupled with a warming climate created an excellent environment for the flora and fauna and later also for the inhabitation by hunters and gatherers. Uncertainties remain over the ancestry of today’s Cape Buffalo, it’s lineage to the Ancient Buffalo (as well as the whereabouts of the same) and the relationship to other bovides (such as the Asian Water Buffalo).
The Cape Buffalo is the only animal of the “Big Five” which the IUCN categorizes as LC – Least Concern 29. In spite of a total population of nearly one million animals living on the continent mainly in protected reserves, the Cape Buffalo is extinct in several African countries (Gambia, Guinea, Eritrea). A continued threat for the Cape Buffalo continues through anthropogenic elements such as imported epidemic cattle plague, loss of habitat and increasing human hunting pressure for use for a protein source.
It can be said with a high degree of certainty that the contemporary form of the Cape Buffalo has no relation to the Ancient Buffalo as painted on and carved in North African rocks. Likewise, the assumed close relationship to the Asian water buffalos living in the wild as well as to other domesticated forms of cattle has not been proven – this in spite of the fact, that the ringed horns seen in the ancient rock paintings quite closely resemble those of Asian water buffalos, but definitely not the Cape Buffalo. This seems paradox and gives rise to ongoing scientific debates and research 25, 26, 27. Preferred habitat of the Cape Buffalo living on the continent today are quite variable – even up to altitudes of 4,000 m (13,000 ft). Habitat requirements include sufficiently open spaces, an abundance of vegetation for grazing, water and mud for the animals to wallow in for skin care. Parasites and ticks are picked from their hides by yellow or red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus africanus or Buphagus erythrorhynchus). However, these birds seem to prefer insects that have already gorged themselves with animal blood, this suggests that benefits of this symbiotic relationship lean towards the birds 28. The social behavior of the buffalos is very well developed, when wounded or attacked the animals become actively protected by the herd: in corral like formations the calves, wounded or weak are in the center surrounded by the very protective older animals.
Picture Left Side Cape Buffalo Herd Intaglio print from manually engraved aluminum plate with Chine-collé 20 x 30 cm [7 7/8“ x 11 7/8“] (2017)
Lion (Panthera leo) Around 250,000 BCE, during the late Pleistocene, lions were the second most widespread land mammal, after humans. Aside from areas in Africa, Asia, North and West Europe, they also inhabited parts of the Americas. At the end of the Pleistocene with the arrival of the last ice age around 10,000 BCE, lions became extinct in Europe. Lions are the most portrayed creature on paintings, coins and statues and can also be found on pre-historic rock paintings and carvings in France and North Africa 30. Through history and to this day, lions hold a central position in zoos and vivariums. They are often held in inappropriately small enclosures, even though they symbolize and embody vigor, prowess and noble-mindedness. It is possible that the small enclosures emphasize the dominance and superiority of man over beast. Lions originally habituated all of Africa (with the exception of Central Africa and the rain forests), in the Near East and in Asia. Today, lions only live south of the Sahara in Africa, and in Asia only in the Gir Forest National Park. In North Africa, lions could be found as late as in the 19th century. Lions are adaptable and in contrast to other animals require little and sporadically water, they are even able to satisfy their water needs from prey and/or water containing plants 31. Killing lions by poisoned baits to protect domestic animal herds has become increasingly frequent. Also, the poachers’ use of wire snares that are cheap, indiscriminately catching devices that are readily available, further endanger lion populations 32. It is a paradox that trophy hunting seems to stabilize lion populations, possibly because professionally executed wildlife management is able to arrange for a healthy and preferable ratio between male and female animals. Lions are the only animals among the feline species (Feloidea) where the males have a mane. The size and color of the mane often determines the animal’s rank and dominance in the pride of lions. They hunt in packs whereby it seems that certain animals have defined roles assigned. However, the major part of the hunting effort and physical labor is carried out by the lionesses. The lioness focuses her hunt on species which are native in their area and is always an optimized effort considering deployed energy versus size of the prey 33. A strict order of precedence is established when the prey is eaten, lions which are not part of the pride are not admitted to
feed. Often (and in certain areas more than in others) lions “poach” the prey away from hyenas. Humans are generally not part of the lions’ predator-prey system although exceptions have been reported which most likely were caused by human interference into their hunting grounds. Estimates of the IUCN for the African lion population range from 20,000 to 30,000 animals. Within three generations of lions (approximately 70 years) the total lion population has decreased by 43% causing marked ecological imbalances to be observed in different parts of the continent. In an Africa wide average the IUCN categorizes the lions in their red list as VU – Vulnerable 34 but comments that a category EN – Endangered would more aptly apply to specific locations in Africa where the population has dropped below a 50% reproduction rate. Lions are listed in the Washington Convention CITES Appendix I and any trade of the animals and their products is therefore prohibited. Decrease of prey, indiscriminate pursuit for protection of domestic herds and loss of habitat are the main issues threatening lions. A new and additional threat has emerged recently as lion bones and body parts are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine 35 in spite of their confirmed uselessness and ineffectiveness. Lions held in game reserves are often malnourished due to lack of funds for proper food and care.
Picture Left Side Pride of Lions Intaglio print from manually engraved aluminum plate with Chine-collé 20 x 30 cm [7 7/8“ x 11 7/8“] (2017)
(Panthera pardus) Leopards were domestic in Middle Europe in pre-historic times but became extinct in Europe at the end of the last ice age. Small, locally remaining populations exist in the Caucasus, on the Arabic peninsula (Oman), in Iran, Turkmenistan, Anatolia and Palestine. Survival of these populations seems highly questionable somewhat due to the warlike activities in most of these areas. Among all of the feline species, leopards are the most able climbers and in contrast to other cats they are even able to climb down head first. With their shoulder blades being shifted sideways and their long, hooked claws, leopards can climb trees and steep cliffs carrying prey up to double their own weight. Leopards have an enormous jumping ability and are excellent swimmers 36, 37. Their hidden behavior and nocturne hunting activities is possibly the reason why leopards are very rarely depicted on prehistoric rock paintings and carvings. These big cats are quite widely distributed in Africa (and also Asia) but have largely been decimated in comparison to their historic populations. Their hidden behavior, adaptability and high habitat tolerance makes a reliable census difficult, the populations are also spatially quite far distributed. Main sources of the threat for the leopard are encroaching human populations, agriculture and habitat fragmentation which has been reduced between 2007 and 2016 from 21 to 8 million km2 (8.2 to 3.1 million sq miles), a reduction of 62%. In addition, hunting pressure continues to increase: their hides are used for religious and ritual purposes which has cost between 4,500 to 7,000 leopards their skin every year to satisfy the “needs” of hides for the followers of the Nazareth Baptist Shembe Church 38 (Guy Balme, Program Director for the African Leopard conservation group „Panthera“, unpub. data) 39. Estimates for the leopard population in Africa range between 250,000 and 700,000 – the large range is indicative of the difficulty encountered in gaining a reasonably accurate census 40. In contrast to lions, the surveillance of leopards is very difficult even in protected areas as their territories are almost impossible to confine. The IUCN categorizes the leopards on their Red List as VU – Vulnerable since the leopard populations are unstable and decreasing in all regions.
The trade in leopards and their body parts is prohibited under the Washington Convention CITES Appendix I and restricted to 1,720 animals (2017 41) from 11 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the before mentioned countries have prohibited trophy hunting for leopards entirely for reasons of species conservation. The main threat to leopards is a decrease of prey. The population of hoofed animals (ungulates) which leopards prefer for prey has decreased by some 60% in 78 protected areas of West, East and South Africa due to the widely commercialized hunt and trade for “bush meat” (Craigie et al. 2010 42) It is feared that the leopard population will decrease relative to any decline in their prey. Human population in African will increase from 1.2 Billion to over 2.5 Billion by 2050 (UN 2013, UNICEF 2017, Population Reference Bureau PRB 43) which will require an increase in lands for agricultural use by 50 million hectares (125 million acre) or some +21 %, (Alexandratos and Bruinsma, 2012 44). It can be assumed, that not only leopards but also other African wildlife will be affected by these developments.
Picture Left Side Leopard Intaglio print from manually engraved aluminum plate with Chine-collé 20 x 30 cm [7 7/8“ x 11 7/8“] (2017)
The depiction in the Chauvet cave includes huntable game such as bison, stags and wild horses, while the cave lions and bears do not fit well into the predator-prey system of humans of this period: lions and bears were probably painted for ritual and cultural reasons, maybe to gain power over the beast and to mitigate the threat for the hunters and increase their chance of survival. In any event, the animals are portrait as what they were at that time: an integral part of the daily life of mankind, either in form of the human hunter to the animal prey or - in the threatening reversal of the relationship – human prey to animal predator. Whatever the interpretation might be, it is beyond doubt that the importance of animals and their inseparable role in relation to human life was documented with these paintings. The existence of prehistoric rock art in Africa was first reported in the middle of the 19th century by explorers including Heinrich Barth and Gerhard Rohlfs long before the discovery of the French and Spanish cave paintings. Leo Frobenius 3, 4, 5 was the first to catalogue and document these works of art in a scientific-systematic form during his expeditions and research missions.
Rock Carving - Elephant – Tadrart-Akakus (Libya) – Photo © Bernhard Cociancig
The Animal When, How, Why and Where did they it get into the picture? Animals and animal portrayal in the art Man and beast have always been closely connected due to the overlap of their respective territories. From very early times, this symbiotic relationship was recorded in cave paintings which were discovered as late as 1994 on the rock walls of the Ardèche valley caves in southern France approximately 200 kilometer northwest of Marseille. Although the rock paintings of Lascaux, Altamira and other caves of France and Spain had been discovered earlier, the Ardèche cave coal and ochre paintings (named after their discoverer Chauvet) are most likely the oldest man made rock art dating back as far as 35,000 BCE. Although the most recent technology in modern forensic methods has been used to determine the age of the paintings; it is not possible to achieve accurate dates, since the coal used in the paintings (and only that can be used for the C14 determination) could possibly also stem from earlier deposits.
The following contemplations on the role of the animal in art history can only be cursory and fragmentary and are by no means (neither geographically nor chronologically) complete. They are mentioned herein with the attempt to somewhat lessen the gap between the Paleolithic rock art and any modern, contemporary view. The depicted content of the African Paleolithic rock painting allow the division of this era in two distinct time periods: one period, in which the humans were still hunter gatherer and the subsequent period, where humans became sedentary, and were engaged in subsistence farming and cattle husbandry. The pictorial presentation of animals - such as horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, and later also camels - shifts from them being prey to becoming domesticated around 7,000 BCE. The antique art of Mesopotamia’s Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians (from 10,000 to 600 BCE) succeeds the hunter-gatherer period almost immediately. This era’s ultimate achievements peak between 4,000 and 600 BCE when the Persians occupied the areas between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Somewhat later, but in parallel phases, antique Egyptian art developed. Artists of both cultures observed and therefore knew the animals very well; they were able to represent their physical features in a precise and detailed manner 45. The Egyptian art (3,000 BCE to 30 CE) dedicated an overriding importance to mythology, symbolism and worship to idols in their visual presentation of animals. The depicted works of statues, half reliefs, wall paintings and
papyrus drawings often show hybrid creatures between humans and animals, which depending on the man-beast combination have either been worshipped as gods (lion-sphinx; falcon-Horus) or have served as symbols for demons – probably an early form of anthropomorphism? Cats, dogs, snakes, crocodiles and other animals were not only worshipped as superior beings during their lives but also mummified and buried with elaborate rituals after their death. In both the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian art, animals also appear in an unusual but very interesting form which may best be ascribed to fables: a fox walking on two legs herds a group of deer; a cat keeps a gaggle of geese, a monkey plays the flute and a crocodile the harp – similar motifs appear in illustrations during the Middle Ages. In (almost) all cultures and cultural epochs, the lion and its depiction occupies a special place: it starts with the already mentioned rock and cave pictures of the Paleolithic, later as gods, idols or gate keepers in the Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Persian art. Examples include the Lions Gate at Hattuša, Babylon and Ninive, as Sphinx in Gizeh, and, in the fight with the bull in Persepolis. The ancient Greek (Hellenistic) art and culture 46 saw animals or more precisely, their existence, as an integral part of everyday life. Displays of animals were found on coins, vases, articles of daily use, in the form of miniatures and sculptures, and, as mosaics or paintings. Horses, lizards, hedgehogs, scorpions, snakes, hares, owls – the Greek divided animals according to their contrasts: wild and tame, useful and useless, helpful and dangerous, domestic and exotic, living in or outside the house, Hellenic or Barbaric (alien). A predominant typology was not commonly applied, which often caused confusion in their interpretation and correlation with seemingly logical distinctions such as “wild” and “tame”. Horses and elephants had been imported and served in the armies along with oxen, donkeys and mules. Others, such as antelopes, gazelles, crocodiles and lions were used like ornaments to beautify and enrich homes and kept in gardens or cages. Only domesticated animals were slaughtered in sacrificial rituals and observations by oracles for predictions. Around 700 BCE, topics of the Greek mythology began to dominate the Hellenic visual arts scene: centaurs, hybrids of man and horse, lion bodies with falcon heads – works which were most likely created under influence of comparable Egyptian and Mesopotamian presentations at a time when the Greeks commenced with their conquests and trade relations to these countries. Half-human mythical creatures like satyrs show increasingly explicit and detailed human traits.
Herodot (490 to 430 BCE) reports on animals in Libya – venomous and nonvenomous snakes, wild donkeys, antelopes, gazelles, horned sheep, foxes, jackals, porcupines, ostriches, bears, lions, leopards, crocodiles and elephants. In a work ascribed to Aristoteles, humans are categorized in accordance to their comparable animalist physiognomies. Also remarkable is the naming of animals which were not domestic in Greece at that time 47: for example the crocodile was called a “lizard living in water” (krokodeilos potamios). At and around the turn of eras the visual art works (and in particular sculptures) were refined to very realistic images and animals were often shown jointly with humans (e.g. Laokoon-Group). Roman art, initially a direct assimilation of immigrated cultures, developed under strong influence, if not direct imitation, of the guiding principles of the Greek art disciplines; architecture, sculpturing and painting. The presentation of animals took a broad stage. Commencing with the founding mythos that Romulus and Remus were reared by the Capitoline wolf, the wolf stands as a permanent threat to sheep herds. Use of working animals such as oxen, donkeys, horses and even elephants in war and peace were a common sight. Cattle slaughtered in sacrifice to appease the gods or oracles were used for meat provision. Dogs, cats and birds were kept as pets. Lions, tigers and bears were set at odds to the gladiators in Rome’s amphitheaters. Animals were found in every part of the Roman daily life. During the existence of the Roman empire (75 BCE to 640 CE) they were also found in various forms on coins, wall paintings, sculptures, steles, mosaics, friezes and ceramics, in public spaces, squares and increasingly frequent also in private estates 48. In the western world the lion has taken an early and firm place like no other animal: generally named “king of the animals”, the lion represents valor, nobility, strength, dignity and prowess. Lions are used as part of a name (Richard the Lionhearted), as heraldic animals in numerous countries of Europe, Asia and Africa and also on Christian church portals as allegory for the resurrection. When used as a byname, the use of the word “lion” is meant to suggest the quality of its bearer (like in Richard the Lionhearted or also Omar Muhktar the “Lion of the Desert”). The invention and widespread use of oil paints in the late 13th century supports the documentation of momentary situations. Hence it may not be a surprise that this quality was readily adopted and further developed by the sensuous Dutch artists: Jan and Hubert van Eyck were successful in
softening the strictly profane motifs, which hitherto dominated the painting processes, by applying a bright blue instead of a golden sky with the city of Gent in the background in their work of the Gent winged altar piece “The Adoration of the Lamb”. Since that time, artists and painters have freed themselves from the strict religious canon, they paint what they see and how they see things (and animals). This attitude appears initially cautious but later quite explicit in the works of Albrecht Dürer. In his work “Hieronymus” the lion at his feet still represent the symbol and allegory of Christ’s resurrection. However, it remains questionable whether Dürer has ever seen a lion in reality or whether he has derived the portrayal from a cat. In his work “Fledermaus” (Bat – 1522, watercolor and ink), he discards the dangerous and spooky symbolism usually attributed to this nocturnal animal and paints it accurate, vivid and full in its complexity. The same applies in Dürer’s work “Rhinocerus” (1515 – woodcut): the roughly correct and lifelike presentation is the more surprising as is certain that he had never seen a rhino in reality but relied on sketches and descriptions of other artists. A century later Rubens created the chalk drawing “Lioness” (1614). This astonishing portrayal is closer to that of a tiger and also it does not show the proportions and expressions of a predator. Although Rubens often had the opportunity to study these (and other exotic) animals in the circles he was frequenting his approach seems to reflect more his attempt to show the vigor in the opulent forms which he usually finds in horses. Generally the portrayal of animals in the Europe of the 16th and 17th century developed in the so called “Tierstücken” technique (animal pieces) into a popular subject whereby those artworks are most convincing where the artists were able to capture an unreflecting moment. In the 19th century, the aversion of the symbol of animals as mythical creatures and arrival of a realistic presentation of them established itself as a separate genre. Critical in this development was the continuously rising interest of the public in the natural sciences and the research and exploration of foreign countries, their flora and fauna. However, beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the fine arts had fierce competition with emerging photograph platforms and was only able to distinguish itself from photography by enforcing aspects of expression and dynamics.
Representative of this are the works of the painter Franz Marc (1880-1916) : not only in that he experimented with the stylistic elements of fauvism, cubism and abstract painting which developed in this period, he also was a cofounder of the editorial team “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider). In his late works he attempted to show animals as sensitive creatures exhibiting perceptions like hunger, joy and pain. Portrayals of animals in art move successively away from accident appearance and incidental decoration and become increasingly in focus - partially as independent beings but also as companions of humans. Max Ernst (1891-1976), an expressionist, surrealist and co-founder of the Dadaism, suggested that the relationships between human-animal and in particular artist-animal relationships had a magical connection which he often portrayed with anthropomorphic elements in his works. Artists of the Classical Modern attempted to emphasize the symbiotic relation between animals and humans, but in the middle of the 20th century this becomes increasingly overlain with critical elements. The animals are almost always found in a hierarchically subordinate position and the artists humiliate them with brutal treatment, torment, exploitation and subjugation (for example: Jörg Knoefel, Valie Export). At the end of the 20th century the animal takes an entirely new and hitherto unknown form of expression in the fine arts: it is either presented dead or alive 49, as a specimen preserved in formaldehyde (Damien Hurst’s animals and animal parts) or appears as co-actor in performances (Joseph Beuys with coyotes, Marina Abramović on a white horse or with a boa constrictor). And (again?), works of (stuffed) animals appear which are reminiscent of earlier dominant symbolism and allegories (Deborah Sengl). The rapidly rising impact and threat to our environment through climate change, effluents, carcinogenic chemicals, radioactivity, biocides and water contaminants are increasingly addressed in the works of contemporary artists. Galleries and museums curate and organize events and exhibitions where ecological and environmental issues are the main (if not only) topic. For 20 years in Germany, the dialog between artists which understand their works as environmentally related has been fostered and supported by the Ministry of Environment (Umweltbundesamt) in a series of events “Kunst und Umwelt” (Art and Environment) 50.
Abbreviations BCE CE CITES DNA EWB GEC IUCN PRB UN UNICEF USA WWF
Before Current Era Current Era Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (www.cites.org) Deoxyribonucleic Acid Elephants Without Borders Great Elephant Census International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources *) (www.iucn.org) Population Reference Bureau United Nations United Nations International Children‘s Emergency Fund United States of America World Wildlife Fund IUCN Kategorisierungen: LC - Least Concerned NT - Near Threatened VU - Vulnerable EN - Endangered CR - Critically Endangered EW - Extinct in the Wild EX - Extinct *)
Rock Carving - Lion – Wadi al Chail (Libya) – Photo © Bernhard Cociancig
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Acknowledgements Allow me to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the lecturers of the kunstschule wien (Vienna School of Art) for their guidance, support and advice. Special thanks to Gerlinde Thuma and Barbara Höller (painting and process), Birgit Kerber (graphic design) and Tom Phelan (print graphics). The original title of my diploma work consisting of the paintings, prints and the accompanying brochure was “Die Haut zu Markte tragen” (carry the skin to the market), which for this version has been renamed “Skin of the Game” reflecting the spirit of its content. Many thanks to Murray Rodgers and other Canadian friends which wanted to remain anonymous for proof-reading, commenting and thus materially improving the English text of this brochure. And last - but by far not least!- thanks to Bouwien Luppes of Try-It Arts in wonderful and artsy Bragg Creek for presenting and representing my work, for the encouragement and friendship. Big Hugs to all of you!
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