Ama Menec, artist for the animals, reveals fascinating insights into her life and #art.
So Ama, can you tell us a little bit about yourself. Were you always making art as a child?
Yes, I’ve always made art and always been creative. The first sculpting I did was around the age of 8 when I carved back some wax crayons with a penknife to make a row of little people all with different characters.
Tell us about your background. Were you brought up in a #vegan family?
I spent some of my childhood on my grandparents’ farm, and at that time I started to question how we treat animals. My grandfather tried to harden me to ‘country ways’, so I took issue with him at age 10 and 11. I lived on their farm during a drought in 1976. It was fen land and the earth opened up with such deep fissures I could plunge my whole skinny 10-year-old arm in and not touch the bottom.
A nearby pig farm burned to the ground from a spontaneous fire and hundreds of sows burned alive because they were held captive in farrowing crates, as were the sows on my grandfather’s farm. I remember having a furious row with him about farrowing crates, and he had to agree with me in the end that they were wrong.
I also refused to eat the pheasants shot at the end of the wheat harvest….the guns stood in a semicircle around the last stand of corn as it was cut, and shot madly at all the fleeing animals bolting for cover. It was industrial slaughter, and I knew it was, while my grandfather tried to get me to see thus was ‘sport’ and ‘vermin control’. I pulled all the pheasant tail feathers back out of the bin after they’d all eaten the poor bird. They were too beautiful to throw away.
My parents tried to be hippies, with only partial success, but they did go vegetarian as many did in the mid 70s , and campaigned to save the whale and raise funds for #Greenpeace [that was me folks!]
Was there a particular event in your life that prompted you to choose vegan?
I went vegan twice, the first time in my early 20s after seeing a lone farmer herding some cows and beating the ones at the back with a stick. They had been bred to produce so much milk they were kicking themselves in the udder whilst trying to run away from the farmer and his stick, and then crashing into the cows in front. Their eyes were white and rolling in fear and pain, and I thought, “They are going through this hell because I love milk chocolate:” Back then vegan #chocolate was hard to find, so I had about 10 years of Bournville dark, and not much else.
After 10 years of being vegan I started a new relationship. My partner went from meat-eater to vegan by default which proved too much for her at the time, so I compromised by joining her as a lacto-vegetarian.
I went vegan properly again 6 years ago, mostly because I was so pissed off that my meat-eating partner gets more veg than me when we eat out, and I just get a big slab of starch with another slab of animal fat on top, and usually no veg to speak of. Be it goat’s cheese tart or cheese pasta, it all amounts to zero nutrition and maximum calories, with awful effects on my health. Now when we eat out I often have only one option, which is salad and chips, but it’s still way better than some form of cheese on toast! I’m disgusted at the lack of nutritional education British chefs still get at catering college.
That being said, there are way more options for vegans now than there were in the mid 80s, particularly in ready made cheeses. And social networking really helps too with some fab recipes.
Are you owned by any companion animals? Tell us about them.
I have two girlies in my life, one human and one feline, and neither are vegan. Miss Squeak joined us at our studio as a starving waif of a feral #cat about 5 years ago. We were outside eating vegetarian sushi, pickled vegetables, vinegar’d rice and all, and she wolfed it down. Having avoided us for 10 years I knew she must be starving, and it’d been a very hard winter, so I started feeding her. She’s lived at our studio all that time – until this Christmas when I took her home to see if she’d like it. She refused to leave, so now I have an elderly house cat who is the opposite of the hissing fur ball she used to be. It’s lovely watching her slowly relax into this new kind of living, and I feel blessed to have her company and her trust.
Can you tell us if and how your art is informed by your beliefs?
The main drivers behind the #sculpture I make are a profound admiration and awe at the marvel of each species. And my fury at the way ‘the wild’ is squeezed out of the British countryside, often to make way for yet more cattle and sheep grazing. The issue of how much land is given to raising meat is something most meat eaters don’t want to face up to. Even those people who ‘love nature’. I live and work rurally, and each year I see more and more land turned over to grazing, or raising crops for cattle feed. Trees chopped down, copses erased, hedgerows grubbed out, verges trimmed to death.
And I can hear calves and cows that have been separated, calling for each other from my bed at night. I can’t wait to see the dairy farm up the road to close….it can’t come soon enough for me.
How would you like to influence people through your art and your life?
With each sculpture I try to show something unique to that species that sets it apart from other creatures. The mantling barn owl looks nothing like any other mantling bird of prey, due to its huge head, small body, enormous wings and short stubby tail. The buzzard is caught in a pose missed by the naked eye, halfway between relaxing and being alert. The swift is having a good scream whilst holding on to a wall, the only time they are stationary.
I try to make my 3D animals life-sized, as scale is important. Most people have no idea how small a kingfisher is if they’ve never seen one. I they ever see it at all, it’s just a flash, a blur of blue, and then it’s gone. Badgers are bigger than most people think, and so are red kites: unless you get the chance to get up close and personal with a live one, how would you ever know? I try to give people a ‘wildlife experience’, and at the same time be able to do things they’d never get away with in real life , such as stroke a buzzard and keep their fingers!
I make my sculptures simplified, refined down, and stylised, but also smooth to invite the hand. We are a tactile species, and we learn about what a thing is by touch, just as a badger ‘sees’ the world through its nose and sniffing things. I encourage people to touch my sculptures. Children get my sculptures quicker than most adults, and are wowed away with the awe of being eye to beak with a lie-sized bird of prey. It makes my day when some little kid breaks out in an ear to ear smile and says, “That’s awesome!”. I’m even happier when I persuade someone that a species they have hated for years is a wonder. My favourite sales are those rare conversions and they stick in my mind. I’m happy to enthuse for hours with people about wildlife of all kinds, in all kinds of places. Art is all about communication and there are many ways of getting a message across.
I believe you have won awards with your art?
It was while I was leading #TheGreatBadgerTrail from Gloucester to Westminster in 2014 (it was great to bring a bit of West Country wildness to the heart of London!) that I heard my Female Red Kite bronze had won the Best Sculpture in Show at #NatureinArt. The Best Sculpture in Show was chosen by the public.
And last year, I was chuffed to bits at getting my Female Buzzard foundry bronze into the #RoyalAcademy Summer Open. And into the Royal Scottish Academy too, where she won me the Tate St Ives prize.
Thank you Ama for generously sharing your absorbing story and artistic insights with us.
See more of this stunning work on Ama’s website