Walking Hand in Hand with Nature

“Nature inspires me. My hope is that my art will serve its purpose, remind us of how the human-nature relationship is supposed to be, beautiful, harmonious, and living side by side. My subjects are often children and animals because they are sincere, unprejudiced and unpretentious. There’s an innate relationship between them.” Indonesian artist Elicia Edijanto

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I find these watercolour paintings profoundly moving. I hope you enjoy them, and that they will continue to touch the hearts of those who see them. The simplicity of colour and detail creates a timeless, tranquil, dreamlike other-world. Is this the Garden of Eden? The kingdom of heaven? The way life was here on Earth before abuse of power, greed, exploitation, cruelty and fear trampled innocence, reverence, trust and love into the dust? Elicia’s art brings to my mind two passages from the Bible, see below.

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The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11 v 6

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He [Jesus] called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matt 18 vv 2-4

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Elicia depicts the animals with simple reverence, in all their majesty. They are here in their own personhood, with their own standing. They do not seek Man’s permission. They owe us nothing. They are here by right.

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Discover the artist and see more of Elicia’s beautiful work on her website

Related posts

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Through Artist’s Eyes – The Wondrous Web of Life & Death

Vegan Artist’s Surreal Vision of Animals & Our Planet

The ‘Serious Intensity of Being’ in Animal Art

Anger & Beauty – Inspiration for Artist Andrew Tilsley

 
 

 

Through Artist’s Eyes – The Wondrous Web of Life & Death

Feast your eyes on a paradox. Self-taught American artist Tiffany Bozic’s vibrant paintings fuse together two incongruent poles. A high emotional charge / and rigorous scientific accuracy. Her own imaginative vision / and meticulous observation.

At first sight surreal. But look closer at what the surreal is unmasking. The ultimate reality, the ultimate truth, that we are all part of Planet Earth’s beautiful, inextricably-interwoven web of life and death.

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© Tiffany Bozic

Just as the image plays with our ideas of reality, the title of this painting plays with words, ‘Flora and Fawn’

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© Tiffany Bozic
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© Tiffany Bozic

Tiffany has spent most of her life “living with and observing the intricacies of nature.” If more of us could emulate her approach, what reverence for life would prevail.

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© Tiffany Bozic

Tiffany paints on boards of maple wood.

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© Tiffany Bozic
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© Tiffany Bozic

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In some of her work, we see Tiffany making the grain of the wood itself an integral part of the image.

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© Tiffany Bozic

Cover pic ©Tiffany Bozic

Discover more about this fascinating artist, her techniques and her art here

Visit Tiffany’s website Tiffany Bozic

Source

New Surreal Wildlife Paintings by Tiffany Bozic – Colossal

Related posts

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Vegan Artist’s Surreal Vision of Animals & Our Planet

The Serious Intensity of Being in Animal Art

If Rembrandt Painted Farm Animals They’d Look Like This

A Fragile Butterfly Joins The Face Off At Standing Rock Revisited

Cover pic from Willamette Weekly – Dakota skipper butterfly by artist Roger Peet

“The butterfly is a small thing. It’s not a very dramatic creature. It’s about an inch long, but it’s part of the great community of life that exists on the plains.”

Roger Peet

7th February 2017 was a black day for the protesters at Standing Rock.

It was way back in April 2016 that members of the Sioux and other Native American Nations established their camps of resistance in April 2016. And there they still stand, they and their supporters, braving the snow and winter storms, resolute to prevent the last remaining 1.5 miles of the Dakota Access Pipeline desecrating Native American sacred land, and polluting their water ways.

As the world watched with disbelief, President Trump’s first week in office spewed forth an unprecedented flood of executive orders, including one reinstating the work on both the Keystone pipeline and the DAPL.

The order runs contrary to the Army Corps of Engineer’s decision in December to initiate a complete environmental impact assessment. But it seems that under pressure from Washington, the ACE has not waited for the assessment report, instead clearing the way for Energy Transfer Partners to carry on with the completion of this last section of the 1,700 mile long pipeline. Though the Sioux vow to challenge Trump’s decision in court, their window of opportunity has been cut short, possibly too short to even lodge that challenge.

Now more than ever we need to show our support for the protesters, and Stand with Standing Rock. Another new petition to sign here

Other petitions to sign below.

Thursday 9th February

Everyday at Standing Rock brings new developments. Earlier in the week, police arrived in armored vehicles and in riot gear, some of them armed, to arrest 76 Water Protectors at their newly established ‘Last Child’ camp.

In response to this and the easement pushed through for DAPL thousands of Veterans who visited in December to support the protestors are planning their return to Standing Rock, to stand as a peaceful human shield between the Water Protectors and the ‘heavily militarised police’.

“We are committed to the people of Standing Rock, we are committed to nonviolence and we will do everything within our power to ensure that the environment and human life are respected. That pipeline will not get completed. Not on our watch,” Anthony Diggs, a spokesman for Veterans Stand, told CNBCCare2

Veterans Stand launched a new crowdfunding campaign to continue their commitment of protecting their “indigenous brothers and sisters”, and asked, “how can something be good for America when it disregards due process of law, risking our civil liberties and essential natural resources?”

An excellent question Mr Trump. Do you have an answer?

Friday 10th February

“Construction crews have resumed work on the final segment of the Dakota Access pipeline, and the developer of the long-delayed project said Thursday that the full system could be operational within three months.

Meanwhile, an American Indian tribe filed a legal challenge to block the work and protect its water supply.Chicago Tribune

Monday 13th February

Judge refuses to block work on Dakota Access pipeline. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said he would not grant a temporary restraining order against the project sought by the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe. It means that oil could potentially run through the pipeline within 45 days, if not sooner. The Hill

Wednesday 15th February

On February 15th, 2017, Pope John Francis joined the fray. The Pope met with representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux at a U.N. Agricultural meeting in Rome to discuss the issue. Afterward, he made this statement to the press,”The right to prior and informed consent [should always prevail especially] when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the Earth.” We salute the Pope for coming out against this gross violation of the Standing Rock Sioux’s rights.

You can also use the White House contact page to express your displeasure regarding this policy. Finally, you can send supplies to the protesters on the ground by contacting Sacred Stone Legal Defense Fund and  Standing Rock Sioux Tribe DAPL Donation Fund. United we are stronger than any government or corporation. One Green Planet

Wednesday 22nd February

All but a 100 or so water protectors left Standing Rock before the deadline expired at 2pm. 10 who remained were arrested. Those left were given another chance to leave peacefully Thursday.

Thursday 23rd February

The protest finally ends. Standing Rock camps cleared by force. “In distressing scenes for anyone who has been involved fighting the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, highly militarized law enforcement—some carrying guns, riot gear and backed up by Humvees and bulldozers—moved into the Oceti Sakowin camp near the pipeline route.” Another 46 arrested. Oil could be flowing through the DAPL as soon as mid-March.

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Tuesday 7th March 2017

Native Nations take their protest to Washington

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Thursday 9th March 2017

 Original post 5th December 2016

This week we were shocked by news that in sub zero temperatures and snow, local police used water cannon, rubber bullets, mace and percussion grenades on the Native Americans camped out at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
The huge mural of a Dakota skipper butterfly now stands there as a symbol of support for the protestors, and a reminder of what wonders there are to lose if the Dakota Access pipeline is allowed to go through this sacred area.

And the butterfly is not the only species at risk. There are 18 others, including the whooping crane, the piping plover, and the northern long-eared bat. Does the Dakota Access LLC oil company care? It seems not.

The company’s pipeline is a multi-billion dollar project to transport crude oil through the land to a refinery in Illinois. But the stand off at Standing Rock is not just about wildlife. The Native American people claim it will run right through sacred native lands. And it threatens to contaminate their water which comes from the great Missouri river. They say the DAPL violates the United Nations’ declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, it violates federal law, and it violates native treaties with the federal government. And haven’t the Native American people suffered plenty of treachery like that in the last couple of hundred years!

The protest began in April. The Standing Rock Lakota and other Native American nations rode on horseback to Standing Rock and established a camp they named Sacred Stone. And so the peaceful protest began – peaceful on the protestors side at least. Their battle tactics have been setting up camps and prayer circles.

Now Standing Rock is home to 6,000 protestors. There are 3 camps:

  • the original Sacred Stone Camp close to the river among clusters of trees
  • the Oceti Sakowin Camp home to 4,000, talking quietly huddled around fires in the snow, or sheltering in tepees
  • and last but not least, the Red Warrior Camp, command centre from where disruptive actions are launched

The people have got themselves very well organised and have everything they need. There are tents full of donated sleeping bags, warm gloves and hats, kitchens cooking up mountains of rice and beans, and even traditional healers and doctors on hand.

And it wasn’t all bad this week. Film star Jane Fonda who is actively campaigning against DAPL visited Standing Rock with a delegation of 50 to serve a Wopila feast to the Native Americans, in thanks for their courage protecting Mother Earth.

And now the glorious big bold butterfly mural, the work of artist Roger Peet, leader of the  national Endangered Species Mural Project for the Center for Biological Diversity. This makes the tenth so far of different artists’ murals feasting the eyes of passersby on walls across the US, from Kentucky to Minnesota, California to Tennessee. The aim is to increase awareness and appreciation of the threatened species depicted.

“[Being at Standing Rock] is very humbling. It’s very intense. And it’s very cold. It’s a very rare space to be in in North America—to be in an environment where indigenous culture and voice is at the forefront of everything that’s happening,” says Peet. “The priorities of the settler culture that’s been imposed on this continent is very much requested to take a step back and not insert themselves. It’s a great learning experience opportunity to engage with people who are doing very intense serious work to defend their lives and environment.”

It’s more than sad that the attack on the protestors looks about to gain momentum. President-elect Trump it seems has a financial interest in the oil company – now there’s a surprise. Besides which he’s a self-declared champion of dirty energy. When he enters office in January, it’s expected that Day 1 will see him sweep aside any remaining legal obstacles to the Dakota Access Pipeline and deal strenuously with the protestors.

So what can a fragile butterfly do to bolster their chances against the most powerful man on Earth?

The time is surely coming when the very many of us who hold dear all that is sacred in life: art, spirituality, the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of animals, the rights of Nature itself, will together gather enough impetus to overpower the crass materialism and corporate greed of those who hold sway today.

Sign here, here and  here to express your support for the Sioux people of Standing Rock

More Ways You Can Stand Up For Standing Rock

Contact the White House ASAP. Use the White House contact page, White House, Inc., Twitter, or Facebook to tell Donald Trump that YOU are complaining about DAPL.
Make a call. Voice your opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and ask for the environmental assessment to be completed by calling the Army Corps of Engineers at 202-761-5903.
Join a protest. Protests at pipeline construction sites in North Dakota have been going on since spring 2016. Consider heading up there for a few days or weeks to show your support in person or attend a local protest in your community such as the one recently in Los Angeles.
Divest your money. Leave financial institutions funding DAPL. Write a message to these companies stating that you plan to divest because you oppose this destructive project. Use this tool to send a mass email.
Send donations and/or supplies. Thousands of people are based in the area to protest and need supplies and financial support to keep going. Send donations to Sacred Stone Legal Defense Fund and  Standing Rock Sioux Tribe DAPL Donation Fund.
Educate others. Share updates on the DAPL situation with friends and family using social media (#DakotaAccessPipeline, #nodapl, #standingrock) to keep this issue top-of-mind.

Update

5th December 2016 US Army refuses N Dakota pipeline access – BBC News

6th December 2016 Pipeline company threatens to ignore US Army decision. Please sign petition here

Also on 6th,  Hero Veterinarian Takes 900 Mile Journey to Help Standing Rock Horses – Care2

17th January Standing Rock – We have work to do – Care2

24th January President’s executive order reopens door for controversial pipelines – MNN

It is not clear yet whether the order from the Oval Office supersedes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to alter the route of the pipeline and not send it under the Missouri River near tribal lands.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe said it would take legal action against Trump’s order.

7th February Trump’s executive order signed 24th January set in motion the Army Corps of Engineers’ clearing the way for Dakota Access Pipeline. This move negates ACE’s previous plan for a complete environmental assessment of land and water and cuts short the consultation period. It is now doubtful whether there will be time for the Sioux tribe to lodge a legal challenge to this decision.

Sources

The who, what and why of the Standing Rock protests – The Guardian

A Portland Artist Painted a Bold Mural at Standing Rock – Willamette Week

Standing Rock: Are pipeline protest camp days numbered? – BBC News

Step into a Miniature World of Animated Paper Wildlife

This is mesmerising. Pure magic.


"We are all connected"

I recommend multiple viewings to appreciate the incredible detail and get the full benefit.

Paper predators and prey spring to life in this visually stunning short from directors Dávid Ringeisen & László Ruska. An ordinary desk and typical office supplies are the backdrop for this micro-universe that carries the macro-message of wildlife conservation. While humans are left out of the piece, their impact is still present in a discarded cigarette butt that sparks an imaginary forest fire and an overflowing wastebasket that pollutes a fantastical rolling-chair river. This piece is part of the filmmakers’ MOME thesis project, the animation department at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary and was created for WWF Hungary.

The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the web and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic’s belief in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of National Geographic Partners.

Source

National Geographic

Related posts

Vegan Artist’s Vision of Wildlife & Our Planet

‘The Serious Intensity of Being’ in Animal Art

A Fragile Butterfly Joins the Face Off at Standing Rock

Cutest Wildlife Pics Ever – Woodland Creatures ‘Building’ Snowmen!

These have to be the most entrancing wildlife pics I’ve ever seen. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
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Russian photographer Vadim Trunov is known for his captivating photos of wildlife. When the snow falls, Trunov takes to the great outdoors to capture images of squirrels, other rodents and birds.

The animals explore the scenes he creates — dining on the snowman’s carrot nose or playing catch with walnut-filled snowballs. Trunov will occasionally leave out some trinkets, like a camera or a microphone, and watch as the woodland creatures explore these fascinating finds.

Take a look at Trunov’s snowy work below and check out his website, where you’ll also see his work from less wintry days, photographing lizards and snails perched on mushrooms and squirrels collecting baskets of flowers.

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Vegan Artist’s Surreal Vision of Animals & Our Planet

Art that speaks volumes

“Artist Amy Guidry uses dreamlike images to make a statement about the relationship between humans and the world.”

by Starre Vartan for MNN 19th December 2016

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‘Expatriate’, a comment on climate change

Fine artist Amy Guidry is a Louisiana-based painter who has been making art since she was 3 years old. Her surrealist art tackles the subjects that she’s interested in exploring — she has looked at depictions of women via fairy tale narratives, and the wide variety of human experience. In her newest series, “In Our Veins,” she delves into the human relationship with animals and the natural world.

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‘Shelter’ hints at Guidry’s promise: ‘What seems illogical can come to life through a painting

What was the impetus for your surrealist series about animals and environment, In Our Veins?

I’ve had an interest in animals and the environment since I was very young. I’ve been vegan for almost 18 years now. However, despite the fact that animals and the natural world were often present in my work, I felt the need to up the ante. I wanted to challenge myself both technically and conceptually. My paintings were becoming progressively more surreal, lending themselves to dreamlike backgrounds and unusual imagery. Surrealism allows me to delve into environmental issues and animal welfare issues, creating strange worlds that reflect the current state of our planet. What seems illogical can come to life through a painting. Though in many ways, I feel like what I paint is a mirror-image of our reality.

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The Pack,’ Guidry says when we ignore the threads that connect everything together in nature, we see animals in pieces and parts

How do you use psychology in your work?

This series focuses on our relationship to the natural world and our connection to every living thing. As humans, we often view nature as a means to an end. Animals are viewed as pieces and parts — head, rump, wing, and so on. They are no longer sentient beings but things we eat or wear or put on our walls. If they are food, animals are renamed: cow becomes beef, chicken becomes poultry, etc. It’s as if we’re distancing ourselves from nature. While I have depicted this common viewpoint through paintings of just the head or bust of an animal, I have endowed them with personalities or traits that would be considered more “human” to emphasize their importance and do away with the notion that animals are less than humans. So each animal, be it mammal, bird, etc., has been endowed with something we consider a “human quality.”

I’ve also explored what I consider the opposite approach to these paintings. While in some works, I rely on eyes and facial expressions to convey a sense of connection and relatability to animals, other paintings show animals without faces or covered faces. I wanted to explore the idea of anonymity vs. connection. Without seeing their faces, does that make them any less personable or meaningful? And how does this apply on a global scale? For me, even without seeing their faces, I still see so much life and personality in these animals. I still see them as sentient beings.

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‘Survival of the Fittest’ puts cows in an unusual role — both predator and prey.

‘In Our Vein’s is dominated by horses, deer, bears, wolves, rabbits, cows and humans. Why these animals?

I feel like a lot of these animals blur the line between what would be considered domestic and what would be considered wild. As more wild habitat is being encroached upon by new houses and shopping malls, these animals are being forced out of their homes and find themselves having to adapt to this new urban landscape. They are wild, yet at the same time, people either think of them as cute nomads or dangerous intruders, depending on the species.

I’ll use cows because I feel like they are the epitome of the agribusiness animal. They are used for meat, dairy, and leather, and it’s because of them that forests are cleared and “predatory” animals are killed — all for the sake of ranching.

As for incorporating humans, I do so to emphasize that we are all part of the animal kingdom. I’ll sometimes combine a human with another animal to illustrate that connection. Other times, I may just paint the human brain as a symbol of sentience and our moral obligation to the welfare of these animals.

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‘Untitled ‘Heads’

How do you find your images when you create a new painting?

The images I come up with are inspired by issues or events that I feel a need to cover through my work. I start out with thumbnail sketches of the basic concept behind a painting and I’ll do maybe 50 variations on that concept until I have the right one. Then I’ll draw out the piece to size. If I feel like it would work better a bit larger or even smaller, then I’ll draw it out again. Once I have that final composition worked out, I’ll then transfer that drawing to canvas, sometimes just tracing what I just did with tracing paper. I try to keep my drawing on canvas fairly basic, and work out the rest with paint. Then I do a rough layer of paint, just working out the basic image and getting the colors down. The subsequent layers of paint are to build the colors, and refine the details of everything, getting more detailed until the final layer of paint.

If I need a reference, I rely on my own pets, myself, or my husband as live models. I also have anatomical models and books, though I use that as a guide. I take a lot of artistic license because sometimes a literal translation just doesn’t suit what I’m going for.

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‘Crutch’ hints at the sacrifices animals make to make way for human development

How does your local environment (or another one) find its way into your paintings?

So far what I’ve been painting has been on more of a global scale, really, though I do plan on doing some pieces more specific to this area (Louisiana), especially because of our wetlands. I’ve been focused on climate change, so oceans have been a dominant theme as of late. I also incorporate desert scenes for not only an apocalyptic feel, but to also illustrate the change in landscape due to the clear-cutting of forests.

Your color palette is very specific; is this to make it easier to reproduce colors time and again or for some other reason?

The colors are really dictated by the subject matter, that being said, there are some choices I make regarding the background which are completely intuitive. I may use a more dramatic sky if I want the overall feel of the piece to be a bit dark.

All photos by Amy Guidry

amypic2013Visit Amy’s website and view more of her amazing work in her gallery

“Stunning work of tremendous depth, sublime imagination, tranquil visions, and an attention to detail that is second to none. It should be no surprise that Guidry’s work is garnering serious attention in the art world, and rightfully so”

Ryan Kittleman, Collector and Editor of Noble Row, San Francisco, CA

Source

See Animals & the Environment through a Surrealist’s Eyes – MNN

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If Rembrandt Painted Farm Animals They’d Look Like This

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A Picture of Compassion – Chantal Poulin Durocher – Artist for the Animals

The Art of Compassion for the Animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Serious Intensity of Being’ in Animal Art

“I became strongly aware of what life is all about and what it means to live. Each animal and human being, including myself, has its own life and will be gone someday. I felt that similarity, that we are all equal.”

Japanese Artist Chie Hitotsuyama

In Japan’s culture, its long tradition of exquisite perfection in every field of art and craft, there is always a spiritual dimension. The famous tea ceremony, bonsai, Zen gardens, shodo (calligraphy), netsuke (miniature sculptures), martial arts, to name but a few, all have certain qualities in common: “harmony, asymmetrical balance, artlessness, impermanence, and unity with the universe.” H.E. Davey

20160430-14-320x320To the many branches of Japan’s matchless artistry, should now be added one more, as unlikely as it is new – the recycling of old newspapers, transformed by artist Chie Hitotsuyama into incredible lifesize sculptures of animals.

You could say that paper is in Hitotsuyama’s blood. She was born into a family with a traditional paper-strip business in Fuji, their factory still using the old, wooden machinery. But there is more than just childhood influence in her choice of old newspapers for creating her work:

“Old thrown out newspapers attracted me as a medium, not only because they are easily obtained, but also, they are an accumulation of history and contain stories of human behavior. I see the correlation in how humans repeat their own histories as well as experience the cycles of life and death.”

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“Since the first sculptural piece I made, a rhinoceros, I have continued to sculpt forms of animals and while doing so I have become acutely aware of the life force in all beings. I admire the animals I study. I am in awe of their strength and survival in unforgiving nature.”

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“The strength of animals trying earnestly to live impresses me, their strength is much like the way pieces of newspapers rolled one by one, together, increase in strength as I work with them.”

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“Animals have led me to my way of life and the theme of my life. By creating animal sculptures that convey their respective lives, I’m trying to find out how I should live.”

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Hitotsuyama’s art is animated by her deeply reverent approach to life and the lives of all beings, our ‘unity with the universe’. I don’t know if she is vegan, but it would surprise me if she weren’t.

If you want to see her wonderful work  ‘in the flesh’ she has an exhibition through till January 7 at the Museum of Art and History’s satellite gallery, MOAH:CEDAR, in Lancaster, California.

Visit Hitotsuyama’s website

All image source: Ayako Hoshino

 

Sources

This Awesome Artist is Using Recycled Paper to Make Incredibly Lifelike Animal Sculptures – One Green Planet

These Wildlife Sculptures Are Yesterday’s News (Literally) – NRDC onEarth

Chie Hitotsuyama – Artist – Serious Paper & the Intensity of Being – Huffington Post

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A Picture of Compassion – Chantal Poulin Durocher – Artist for the Animals

The Art of Compassion for the Animals

 

 

 

 

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Pigs are animals, lions are animals, dogs are animals. We are not animals. We are human beings. We are different, and belong to a higher order of life. We stand at the apex of evolution.

That is nonsense of course, because we are animals too. But we are conditioned by our culture to accept without question the notion of our superiority and our rightful position of power over all other life forms. It’s called “anthropocentric patriarchy”.
And that is the first of four myths we humans choose to believe about our uniqueness and pre-eminence on Earth.  But now we’re going to debunk them one by one.

MYTH: Humans are different from animals

FACT: Humans are animals

Ok then. Well, we don’t think of ourselves as animals, but of course we know we are really. So let’s correct the myth and say ‘Humans are different from other animals’ then. That’s more like it, isn’t it?

Well, no actually. That is no better. That’s still setting us apart and above, when in fact ALL animals are different from other animals. Yes, we may have some unique traits, but so do many other species. We can’t fly like birds. We can’t change colour like chameleons and squids. We can’t walk on water like the basilisk lizard. We can’t regrow an amputated limb like an axolotl, and we absolutely can’t live forever like the immortal jellyfish. The list is endless.

But we do have attributes exclusive to us, right?

Perhaps not. A mounting stack of research papers is almost daily uncovering other animals’ capacity to experience the same emotions we do, and communicate with each other in complex languages of their own.

Many also have much the same thought processes. The human brain not so special after all. Did you know pigs can play computer games with humans, for example, and give them a run for their money.

Or that calling someone ‘bird-brained’ should be a compliment not an insult. Relative to their size, birds’ brains are large and remarkably similar to ours. Birds are smart! Watch this clever creature who goes by the name of 007, sizing up and solving an 8-stage puzzle with ease.

But we do have culture, yes? Surely in this we are unrivalled.

Again, sorry to disappoint, but many nonhumans have their own culture too. Culture is defined as ‘socially transmitted behaviour’. And there’s been “an avalanche of recent research” throwing up new discoveries of culture among cetaceans, fish, insects, meerkats, birds, monkeys and apes.

Whales, dolphins and songbirds, it’s been discovered, actually have local dialects. That means they’ve passed down through generations their own unique communication culture that differs from group to group, region to region – just like humans.

The New Caledonian crow makes incredibly precise and sophisticated tools to extract insects from the bark of trees. Research has established that over time, the design of the tool has become more and more refined – proof that it is always the latest improved blueprint that is handed on to the next generation. The exact model of the tools, again, varies from locality to locality.

Orcas can be observed working together as a pod, taking it in turns to dive down under a school of herrings, creating a circle of bubbles around the fish, forcing them up to the ocean surface in an ever-tightening ball. “Each whale has a role. It’s like a ballet [and] they move in a very coordinated way and communicate and make decisions about what to do next.” The strategy is called ‘carousel feeding’, one of several hunting practices developed, refined and passed on that scientists consider warrant the label ‘culture’.

A more bizarre example of cultural transmission is the trend among capuchin monkeys to poke each other’s eyeballs with their long, sharp fingernails. It’s believed this strange custom started small, but over time caught on in a big way among the capuchin population  – who knows why!

We do not have a monopoly on morality either.

A study from as long ago as 1964 showed that hungry monkeys would not take the food on offer if it meant other monkeys getting an electric shock. Likewise rats. And we are not alone in our ability to make character judgments by watching others’ behaviour. Chimps can too.

What about art then? Nonhumans, match that if you can.

lyre-bird-1140064__180They can. Take the lyrebird of Central Australia who has the audio version of a photographic memory. He (it’s always he) samples not just birdsong from a variety of birds, but any other sounds he picks up from his surroundings: chainsaws, beaten nails, car alarms, human speech. Then he puts together the snippets he’s picked up in a unique continuous sequence of song. Exactly like a DJ sampling old recordings and creating something new. Absolutely an artistic endeavour, chainsaws and all.

Then there is the amazing bower bird, as seen in many a wildlife documentary. He crafts a sculpture out of twigs – the bower. And then designs a decorative courtyard in front of it, using flowers, leaves and pebbles, bottle tops, paper clips, plastic straws – anything colourful that’s to hand. He plays with perspective exactly as a human artist might, placing the largest objects furthest away. The effect is to make them look even larger than they really are. It’s what is called a forced perspective. Clever arty stuff, and all to entice the ladies.

‘Well but phff’, you may be thinking. ‘These guys are hardly in the league of Mozart or Michelangelo.’ But perhaps it is simply that we are deaf and blind to nonhuman animal art because our human superiority complex prevents us knowing where to look for it, and understanding what we are seeing when we see it. I believe the same holds true for their other abilities too. We even judge their ‘intelligence’ according to how closely or not it resembles human intelligence. Our perception of nonhuman animals is completely skewed by our own self-importance.

But back to art. Art News magazine believes there is still much to be discovered about nonhuman animal art. “Looking at the spectacular dams, nests, webs, and other elaborate constructions found in the natural world, it remains difficult to leave our art-world sensibilities behind. Indeed some scientists are convinced that animals have the emotional complexity to perceive beauty, make esthetic choices, and produce forms (or song) for art’s sake.”  

MYTH: Humans evolved from chimps

FACT: Humans evolved alongside chimps

africa-1299202__180We didn’t evolve from chimps. We and chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans all evolved from a common ancestor, most likely from the Nakali ape Nakalipithecus nakayamai, 8 – 10 million years ago in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The four evolutionary paths then diverged, and so we have the four different species now. We evolved alongside them, not from them. Man is, in fact, an ape.

MYTH: Each of us is a distinct, coherent individual

FACT: Each of us is no more than an ecosystem, a habitat, a landscape for other life

Who knew, except biologists of course, that our bodies are actually made up of 90% microbial cells and only 10% animal (ie human) cells?! What a staggering statistic. It’s making me feel quite peculiar just writing that. Scientist working on the Human Microbiome Project have discovered 29,000 unique genetic proteins from only 178 bacterial species living in our bodies – and that’s so far. It could be the tip of the iceberg. Compare that with the human genome’s total of 23,000 genes.

It seems then, we are the perfect habitat for unknown numbers of bacteria, fungi and viruses, busily exploring our body’s landscape, and thanking us for our kind hospitality. Some are helping us, others are harming. We don’t yet know who does what. But we do know they far outnumber our simply human components. Eek!

MYTH: Humans sit atop the evolutionary ladder

FACT: There is no evolutionary ladder. Every species is evolving in parallel to every other

We are not, as is commonly believed, more ‘highly evolved’ than bacteria. On the contrary, you could say we are less evolved than bacteria because they have been around longer. They have evolved continuously for the last several billion years. We are relative newcomers. There are, it is true, more and less complex life forms, but no higher or lower.

“All the species alive today that have evolved and adapted to find their way through the world long enough to produce offspring are ‘equally evolved’. In the context of biology, newer isn’t necessarily better: evolution isn’t a process of gradual refinement towards an improved version, but rather a question of stumbling along just well enough to make it into the next generation.”

So it is human arrogance alone that classifies creatures according to our own human-centric notion of their place on the ladder. The idea of a ladder at all, of a hierarchy, of higher and lower, is a human construct, nothing more than a thoroughly unscientific value judgment.

“Like every other kind of life on Earth, we may be unique but we are not special”

Evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk

It is we who place ourselves at the top, decreeing the rank of all other creatures by the measure of their likeness, or unlikeness, to us. A few rungs down the nonhuman apes, a few further the other mammals, continuing down through birds to reptiles, fish, amphibians etc. Bacteria just about the bottom of the pile. According to us.

But there is no bottom or top. There is no ladder, no up or down, higher or lower. Evolution has no hierarchy. There is no evolutionary or biological justification for this myth. We are just one among many.

Debunking this particular myth could hardly be of greater importance for our fellow animals, or for the planet itself. Our self-bestowed crown of superiority is illegitimate. We have placed ourselves on the throne so we can look down on all other animals and view them as existing just for us, the kings of creation. But our claim to the throne is spurious. We have granted ourselves the royal prerogative of making other animals our slaves, extracting whatever we can from them, carving up their bodies to satisfy our whims. As for those we choose not to eat or wear, once they cease making themselves useful to Our Royal Highnesses in some other way, or are simply surplus to our requirements, or just get in our way, become a nuisance to us, or a threat, they too are sentenced to death.

It is by perpetuating the myth that we are top of the tree that humans have stripped all other animals of the autonomy that is their birthright. We’ve reduced creatures that are miracles of nature to commodities. It is by this myth that mankind justifies – no, embraces without even seeing the need to justify – the most unspeakable cruelty. It is this myth that gives its blessing to the wholesale ravaging of wildlife and nature. And it is this myth that paves the bloody road to the slaughterhouse.

James Brabazon sums up Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of Reverence for Life like this:

“Reverence for Life says the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass—and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves.”

Science speaking in the voice of Evolutionary Biology agrees:

We are but one among many

Update

22nd November 2016 Ants behave as mini farmers in Fiji study – The Guardian

1st December 2016 Research shows Birds Have Skills Previously Described AsExclusively Human – The Scientist

23rd December 2016 “I am NOT an animal” video from the Kimmela Center

 

Sources

 5 Common Biology Myths – ZME Science

10 Incredible Things Animals Can Do That We Can’t – ListVerse

Strongest Evidence of Animal Culture Seen in Monkeys & Whales – Science Mag

How Orcas Work Together to Whip up a Meal – National Geographic

Six ‘uniquely human’ traits now found in animals – New Scientist

Can Animal Ever Be Artists? – IFL Science

The Genius of Birds – Jennifer Ackerman

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Who Knew? The Unbearable Beauty of Bees

The humble bee, as you’ve never seen him before – just wow!

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These wonderful macro images are from the USGS catalogue of bees in the USA, courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

Deliciously funny finalists from the CWP Awards 2016

Nature … as you’ve never seen it before

Cover photo by Gil Gofer

Mihai Andrei for  ZME Science

We all know the classical wildlife photography shots: majestic tigers, glorious elephants, dazzling landscapes. But nature isn’t only about that – nature can be funny too. So while photography may be a serious matter, every year, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards celebrate the wild and the fluffy, the cute and the hilarious animals which we see too rarely.

Founded by two passionate wildlife photographers, the awards are not only about the laughs, though: “way more importantly, this competition is about conservation,“ organizers told Bored Panda. They’re working with Born Free Foundation, a conservation charity which attempts to protect wildlife. Here are some of the best photos of this year:
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Photo by Angela Bohlke

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Photo by Adam Parsons

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Photo by Philip Marazzi

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Photo by Perdita Petzi

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Photo by Mario Gustavo Fiorucci

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Photo by Artyom Krivosheev

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Photo by CWPA

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Photo by Henrik Spranz

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Photo by Tom Stables

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Photo by Anup Deodhar

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Photo by Patricia Bauchman

I can’t decide whether my favourite is the frog or the owls!

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