Over the next three weeks, there is a chance that you may spot an artistic elephant somewhere in Mumbai. Do admire it. Hug it, and take a picture with it. This is the elephant parade. After being to Jaipur, New Delhi and Kolkata, the 101 elephants sculptures by leading artists and designers, entered Mumbai through the Gateway of India, marking the launch of the first ever Elephant Parade in India.
Following the launch, the elephants will be displayed in herds at prominent Mumbai locations as part of what has become recognised as the world’s biggest public art event. Each elephant will be for sale to raise funds for their endangered wild cousins and their forest homes. The online auction on Paddle8 (https://m.paddle8.com/auction/elephant-parade-india/), will go live on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Funds raised from the parade will help secure 101 elephant corridors across the country and projects to address human-elephant-conflict throughout India.
As 2018 is the UK India year of culture, it is a homecoming for an event by the internaional NGO Elephant Family to raise awareness of the plight of Asia’s elephants, taking place in the country where the largest wild population of these animals exists.
In the last 100 years, the population of the Asian elephant has plummeted by 90 per cent. Their wild habitat is shrinking at a rapid pace, leading to an increasingly fierce competition between people and elephants for living space and food. Also, poaching and demand for wild caught babies for tourism remain a constant threat. Since 2002, Elephant Family has funded over 160 conservation projects and has raised over £10 million through public art events for this endangered animal. Elephant Family is working in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India to secure 101 elephant corridors in India.
Elephant Corridors are the pathways that elephants use to get from one forest feeding ground to the next. Just like bridges between islands, they provide vital connections between forest fragments, allowing elephants and other animals to move freely. When pathways are blocked by farms, houses, factories and other types of human developments, elephants become stressed and aggressive. In desperation, they eat crops and pose a deadly threat to people. This is an issue affecting 500,000 families in India alone.
In desperation, they eat crops and pose a deadly threat to people. This is an issue affecting 500,000 families in India alone.
Started by the late Mark Shand in 2002 under the patronage of the Rajmata of Jaipur and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, to date, Elephant Family has funded five corridors in India (one in Kerala and four in Assam), which has involved the voluntary relocation of rural, subsistence farming communities. An adventurer, best-selling author and conservationist who dedicated his life to the survival of the Asian elephant, Shand’s mission started in 1988 when he rescued a street begging elephant and journeyed across India with her.
The idea of having an animal statue as a concept to promote animal conservation is not new. In the late 1990s, the concept of a Cow Parade had its origins in Zurich, Switzerland. The success of the concept inspired many other cities to host similar fundraising projects with different animals – cows, camels or tigers.
It took curator, Farah Siddiqui, and her colleague from her arts team, Aqdas Tatli, about a year to put the project together. Getting so many creative people on one platform had to be dealt with tactfully. “As each creative person was going to be on the same platform, we were conscious that each artist gets equal respect,” says Siddiqui.
Initially the artists were given two different elephant shapes to choose from – a sitting elephant and a standing one. However, all the involved artists went for the standing elephant. The fibre glass elephants are each five feet high, three dimensional elephants, painted by 101 of India’s best known artists, designers and creative people.
For artist Brinda Chudasama Miller, it was exciting to work on the elephant. “When I started to paint, the elephant was the first shape that I painted,” she says. According to her, an elephant in its roundness and cuteness is an easier shape to paint than say, a horse or even a dog. Miller named her elephant Rani. “The name immediately came to me and I decided it was female for some reason,” she says. So how does one stand out when you have 101 similar shapes? Well, “the main difference is in the eyes. What will draw the buyer to the elephant is the eyes,” she says. So Miller has made Rani’s eyes soft and feminine, she has used rani pink colour, has put a lotus in her mouth and given her a lotus crown. “She was Rani (queen) from the beginning,” adds Miller.
According to Siddiqui, bids start at Rs3 lakh – 5 lakh. However, elephant sculptures have sold for thousands of pounds in the past, with an average price of £7,000 per elephant worldwide. There is a huge range in price at auction, with the most valuable elephant to date, `The Singing Butler Rides Again’ by Jack Vettriano, selling for £155,000 in London in 2010. ‘The Singing Butler Rides Again’ was based on Vettriano’s well known painting and was a tribute to Elephant Family’s founding patron, the late Rajamata of Jaipur.
The London Elephant Parade became London’s biggest public art exhibition with more than 250 brightly painted elephants located across central London. The sculptures sold for £4.1 million, and raised awareness for the plight of the endangered Asian elephant with an audience of 25 million people.