What would life be without animals? How fast can animal beauty and majesty vanish?
Can stone as an artistic medium be a method of remembering or celebrating?
Living in New York City, and now in Washington D.C., I have often walked by many sculptures of animals, not acknowledging or regarding their stature or presence. As many statues as I pass on my way through the city, the only two that jump out at me are Patience and Fortitude, two white-marble lions that sit in front of the doors of the New York Public Library. When I attempt to think of more, I come to an awkward stall. For this project, I shamefully had to look up some of New York City's most iconic wildlife sculpture on my computer. While researching, not only did I remember some that I knew quite well, but also learned about some, such as Central Park's bronze Balto, a dog who ventured through an Alaskan snow storm to deliver medicine to Nome. Some other famous and iconic New York City sculptures of animals include: the bronze eagles and prey at Central Park; the bronze lioness and cubs at Prospect Park; and the widely known bronze-casted charging bull at the New York Stock Exchange.
Animals...of what do they remind us, and what makes us want to sculpt them and set them prominently in front of buildings and in parks? Similar to historic figures and events that are significant in the shaping of our culture and society, animals are also cast in stone, marble, bronze, copper or iron as testaments to their importance. Like many artistic media, sculpture is meant to evoke feelings and reactions, whether happiness, appreciation, hope, sadness, horror, even respect. In my mind, statues remind the public of the legacies the subjects left in our society. And yet, the majority of people walk right by, focusing on where they need to go rather than what is around them. They are everywhere, and we take them – especially those of animals – for granted. This lack of acknowledgement and recognition of animal sculptures perhaps parallel the human disconnection with biodiversity, with the natural world around us. While it is challenging to connect and relate with people and things, that is not an excuse for our ignorance and, arguably, avoidance to the change and loss of biodiversity.
I hope viewers leave this gallery with a sense of respect for animals and the beauty they give our world. Through the facial expression, texture, light, and design of each piece, I want these photos to remind others of the humanity, innocence, and lack of control animals have over their lives and mortality. For each statue, I tried to get the detail of the texture and the facial features to produce a feeling of dimension and detail, giving the animal more life even as an inanimate object. Specifically, I focused on the facial expressions of the animal sculptures because I believe that is where people can best perceive the feelings and emotions of these beasts made of stone. I feel like most of the photos evoke a sense of sadness, anger, pain, or love. With this photo essay, I am trying to convey that biodiversity is in trouble and suffering, and that so many species are disappearing due to our lack of consideration, our wastefulness, our inability to see what is happening around us. By looking at the photos, I hope people understand that if we do not stop our environmental passivity, we may live in a world where biodiversity and animal life are only "living" in stone, iron, marble or copper.
All photos are copyright protected and may not be used without permission. All photos are courtesy of Zoe Stoenner.