it was the summer of 2010. my first trip to the ‘west’, my first to the country that was the setting for some of my favourite stories growing up. i had quit my job and was using (or blowing up) all my savings in a 40 day trip all over europe. big-eyed, open to discover, uncover for myself i set out to walk all over town…
as i strived to find my footing in the grey, cold city, defined by a sense of direction and a sense of willingness to spend 500 on a simple sub… i saw an elephant. right there, in the middle of everything and nothing. i thought it was modern art… london… their artistic sensibilities… new city… but wondering when i noticed the second… and then one more on my way to the tube near london bridge with people were posing and clicking pictures.
why were there painted asian elephants all over their city? what kind of modern art movement was this? what was i missing?
so curious enough, i ventured close to read the text. there was a note that explained that asian elephant populations were reducing around the world. a group had come together and created a unique exhibition. this meant there would be a whole herd of elephants mulling around london, then slowly they would disappear…. one day you would have this pretty elephant painted in pink at the corner of your street and the next morning it would be gone… but by then you would have gotten used to that friendly figure at the corner of the street, and you would miss them… these big, colourful and cheerful elephants making your city theirs… thus driving home curiosity and awareness about the plight of these enormous gentle giants.
more than 100 artists came together, designed, painted these beautiful elephants. once all the elephants were collected and assembled at the royal hospital chelsea, there was a viewing week. post this there was an auction of these decorated elephants.
a hugely successful exhibition, it generated over £ 4 million, double of what was expected. 70% of this went to the elephant family, an organisation working towards protecting asian elephants. the rest to the organisers and the artists.
this made me notice the elephant. made me sit up and think; that i had never thought those majestic tuskers were slowly swaying their way onto the endangered list. a brilliant way to make urban dwellers realise just what extinction of a species means. once my white-story-print-elephant disappeared from the bend, i never saw him again.