Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Ghosts of Gone Birds / Extinct Boids

What is the purpose of art? Where does its power lie? The answer to such questions vary depending on one’s state of mind– sanguine, cynical or pragmatic. Regardless of what the answers maybe, my favourite ongoing art project is ‘Ghostsof Gone Birds’. Over 200 artists, writers and musicians attempt to breath life into birds long gone (in large part due to human actions) so that other living birds that are under threat may survive. A part of the profit from the sale of the original art works and 50% of royalties from the book are donated to critical bird conservation efforts worldwide.
The book: a visual record of the four exhibitions
Some pages from the book.

The Snail-Eating Coua, Chris Harrendence (left) and Brace's Emerald, Victoria Billet (top right)
Another rendition of the Snail-Eating Coua, Brandon Lodge

The Snail-Eating Coua, a non-parasitic cuckoo from Madagascar became extinct in the 19th century. Deforestation, introduction of Black Rats (that competed with them for food) and domestic cats (that preyed on them) lead to their demise. Brace's Emerald hummingbird lived in Bahamas since the Pleistocene became extinct due to habitat loss and destruction (by agriculture) at the end of 19th century.
Margaret Atwood's knitted Great Auk

Last recorded sighting in 1852, the Great Auk once common in the waters of North Atlantic was important to Native Americans both as food and a cultural symbol. Used as fish bait and hunted for its beak, skin and feathers the species became extinct from the face of the earth, despite late efforts to save the birds.
Not just illustrations, even words bear witness to the silenced voices

When Ralph Steadman was asked to contribute one work of art, he, in what comes as no surprise, provided a book full of 'Extinct Boids', an illustrated record of extinct and imaginary birds in his inimitable style. The result is this book:

On the cover is the Dodo bird, the unfortunate symbol of all the birds that have been lost and gone forever. Not even a single complete specimen of the bird exists. Appropriately the book begins with an Egret– the bird that was hunted to the brink of extinction for its plumes that adorned women's hats. It was the campaign against plume-hunting that lead to the establishment of RSPB– the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. (In the US it lead to the declaration of the first wildlife refuge, Pelican Island in Florida.)
Japanese Egret
In Ralph Steadman's imagination:
How a Bird is Born
One minute there is an egg, the next there is a boid!
One big push and an inky shake of its plumage, and a boid is boin!
How a Bird is Born
Real and Imagined Boids, 240 pages of them
For more about Extinct Boids click here.

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