Renowned artist confronts the destruction of African wildlife in his latest art exhibition

JOHANNESBURG (AP) β€” Often described as an integral part of the continent, Africa’s wildlife, from the great iconic beasts to its vast array of species, continues to attract millions of foreign travelers each year.

But a new art exhibition in the heart of Johannesburg questions the relationship between humans and animals on the continent, which spans centuries and is often marked by the destruction and exploitation of African wildlife for commercial gain. and recreational.

From the slaughter of elephants in the 18th century to fuel the ivory trade to the decimation of the rhino population through hunting, artist and photographer Roger Ballen asserts – through provocative installations and multimedia works – that humans have been at the forefront of the destruction of African wildlife for around 200 years. years.

The exhibition, which opened in March this year, is called “End of The Game”. It explores how depictions of African wildlife, including in Hollywood films, have been used to instill stereotypes about the continent that have led to the ruin of its environment.

“Most people in the West had never been to Africa, so all they knew was what they saw on movie posters and films that depicted Africa as a dark continent with wildlife and wild animals,” Ballen said.

Although hunting was practiced on the continent before the arrival of European settlers, the practice took on a different form, with the introduction of firearms, the trade in materials such as ivory and animal skins and the beginning of big game “trophy hunting” for sport.

The continent’s wildlife continues to face threats today as land is cleared for development or forests are cut down for fuel, compressing natural habitats. Human-caused climate change is also damaging the landscape, with parts of the continent experiencing long periods of drought and other erratic weather patterns, including cyclones, heavy rains and dust storms.

Ballen has used artifacts collected from junkyards, hunting farms, pawnshops and roadside on his local and international travels over a career spanning more than four decades to assemble a collection of photographs , works of art and creative installations.

“It’s about setting it up in an imaginative and creative way that still impacts and challenges the viewer in all sorts of ways,” Ballen said.

The 73-year-old American-born photographer has lived and worked in Africa for more than 40 years and has developed a reputation for dark, abstract artwork, a consistency he seems to have retained with this work most recent.

One of the centerpieces of the exhibition is the documentary section which includes objects, texts, photographs and books documenting the early years of hunting expeditions in Africa.

β€œIt gives people a kind of objectification of the period we are dealing with and when the destruction of game started in Africa,” he said. “It’s up to the public to find out and accept.”

Another display of early versions of weapons and ammunition used to kill larger animals leads to the “Hunter’s Room” – a staged installation depicting photographs and archival objects in a staged safari setting.

A wax figurine of a hunter is the main character of the piece, surrounded by his hunting memorabilia and collectibles.

Some of the photographs include archived footage from former US President Theodore Roosevelt’s highly publicized hunting expeditions to Kenya and Winston Churchill’s East African safari, both in the early 1900s.

A short film screened in an organized cinema compiles excerpts from old Western films depicting African wildlife, including videos shot by European tourists who came to the continent for trophy hunting. Hunters can be seen on films victoriously dominating their trophies, mostly dead giraffes, elephants and rhinos.

Others depict indigenous Africans having conquered elephants, lions and leopards.

Trophy hunting is still legal in many countries on the continent, although it is generally regulated to ensure that animal numbers are maintained.

The exhibit has continued to draw crowds at the Inside Out Center for the Arts in Johannesburg since its opening, and it will remain on display indefinitely, according to Ballen.

A typical Saturday morning at the gallery is a hive of activity.

“I don’t mean it’s scary, but it’s very interesting,” visitor Shelley Drynan said. “It’s interesting to see what people think of animals and how they interact with animals, how most people are actually hypocrites comes to their dealings with animals.

Sarah Wilding, another visitor who said she was familiar with Ballen’s earlier works, said her emotions were stirred by the exhibit’s depiction of African wildlife and its destruction over many years.

“Just being here and feeling the melancholy and the mystery,” Wilding said, “is really a fantastic experience.”

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