Art, Conservation & Politics Interplay in Durban

Inspiration, communication, beauty, awe…and action.  Art plays a many important roles in society – and has for longer than any art museum can possibly document.  We celebrated the ancient art of Body Painting at WILD9 with a stunning exhibit at Hacienda Tekit de Regil.  For many, this was a highlight of the WILD9 experience, serving both a celebration and inspiration for their tireless efforts to protect wild-nature.

Elephant and Henry's Class

We all need a muse.  Andries Botha’s magnificent elephant sculptures are modern day muses for the conservation movement.  Botha states: “The elephant is a metaphor for the yearning for forgotten conversations between humans, the Earth and all living things.”  Nomkhubulwane, Botha’s 9ft tall matriarch made of recycled materials, is traveling throughout North American starting conversations, inspiring conservation action and raising awareness.  While Nom-koo visits childrens’ museums, farmers markets and parades, Botha has been in Durban working on a new herd, engaged in a very different conversation.

Durban Elephant

Invited and contracted by the city of Durban, Botha was creating three life-size elephant sculptures along-side one the most traveled junctions until his work was abruptly halting due to some political squabbling.   The elephant sculptures are hidden under tarps and the debates continue.    Officials within the municipality halted construction because ANC (African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling political party since 1994) officials complained the statues represented the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party, the ANC’s arch-rivals).  Conservations were at an impasse for many weeks, but reports today seem bleak…the elephants may have to be destroyed.  An article in The Mercury explains that both destroying the elephants and moving onward with the project, incorporating sculptures of the remaining Big Five, would cost the city R1.5million or more.

Durban Elephant

John Charter, friend of Botha and partner in The Human Elephant Foundation, said of the debacle: “This is puerile. It is an artwork of global significance. Art offers a solution to the problem of human greed, which leads to environmental degradation. Those elephants have a kinship with the global herd and the sculptor is world-renowned and comes from Durban.”

To get more news about the elephants in Durban and lend your voice to the campaign to keep them standing, join the “Save the Durban Elephant Sculptures” facebook group.

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