T his year in celebration of the Year of the Tiger, WWF presents life-sized tiger sculptures designed by fine artists around the world to bring attention to the rapid decline in tiger populations across Southeast Asia. The goal of the project is to raise awareness of biodiversity in the region by using the tiger as a key indicator, whilst showcasing the works of local and international artists. Earlier in March, Sotheby's spoke to Chris Westbrook, creative director and curator of the 2022 Tiger Trail, to discuss how he and WWF were able to unite artists from around the world in the shared mission of wildlife conservation.
Tell us about your work on the Tiger Trail. How did you become involved with the mission of wildlife conservation?
I have been a curator for nearly twenty years, and I have worked in the fine arts industry globally. In 2002, I started to bring the arts together with charities and good causes. We have done various public exhibitions, trails, and auctions to benefit various causes such as preserving lions, rhinos, and now tigers. To raise funds and awareness, art is a good vehicle for bringing causes and complex ideas to the public's attention, but in a playful and engaging way.
In the exhibition, there are more than 40 artists participating from all over the world. How did you bring this group together?
When WWF first spoke to me about bringing awareness to the tiger cause, we both wanted a global trail in terms of the scope of artists. We've gone far and wide: choosing people who would be able to take the blank canvas of the tiger and create something that would be not only engaging, but also informative. We have 50 artworks by artists from fourteen different countries. Also vitally important was that we had as many artists from the thirteen tiger-range countries as possible.
Many of the fine artists have taken on the tiger challenge, really considering the work very much as though they were in their studio. I would just like to emphasize that the works that have been created are fine artworks, and not merely decorative. Each one is profound, with a narrative expresses a thought or an idea – of what it might mean to us all if we did not have tigers in our world.
There are a mix of tiger sculptures on the the trail itself and unique artworks in the exhibition. What was the process for deciding on the type of work?
We gave every artist the option, because we wanted them to participate in a way that they feel comfortable. There are some artists whose work simply couldn't translate to a white tiger sculpture. For example, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta, in their first time collaborating, wanted to bring both their style of works together in one item; they created a unique piece, Puli, which is absolutely stunning.
We had such a huge response in the artist community that we actually had to pull back, and not to accept too many pieces. On the exhibition side, we have a show at the Fullerton gallery as well as a satellite show in another gallery in Singapore. We have something like twenty or 30 unique works, along with the 33 tiger sculptures that are dotted around Singapore.
On the trail, does the placement of the sculptures have special significance?
Absolutely. I tried to place these artworks so that they engage the public in a landmark spot. Local residents can get out and see the tigers as they do things that are local to them in the city. Visitors can also follow the trail, and when they take their selfies, for example, they've got the iconic backdrop behind them. In terms of social reach, when visitors post and repost the photos, we reach a much wider audience. The message gets out to far more people by placing them in iconic landmarks.
What are some of the major themes of the life-sized tiger art sculptures?
Every artist is bringing their own unique vision. What's common to all of them is the celebration of the majesty and beauty of tigers, as well as their environmental importance. If we save one tiger, we also save tens of thousands of hectares of biodiversity, carbon capturing landscapes. By losing the tiger, we also lose water resources, local communities lose the ability to plant crops properly, and deforestation takes over. Habitats are ravaged by consumerism. Saving thousands of acres of carbon capture of biodiversity, that's vitally important on not only an economic level, but also a social level. It really has a knock-on effect, reaching far wider than just the tiger.
Certainly themes of salvation come through in the works, as artists celebrate the tigers' complete majesty and also their beauty. They are unbelievably beautiful animals. A lot of the artists focused on the stripes, because those are their thumbprints; they’re unique. The works marvel at the importance of the tiger across the board in terms of biodiversity, but also as an icon. Tigers are on the coat of arms for Singapore, as they are on many flags and products around the world. It's a very, very powerful living symbol.
What are the ways the public can get involved so that we will be able to see tigers in the wild for many generations?
The beauty of this particular trail is that 100% of the funds that are raised once the artworks are auctioned off at the end of the event will go to TX2, which is a campaign to double the number of wild tigers. By 2022, they have very close to the goal; the numbers have increased, but we still need a final push for wild tigers to become self sufficient in terms of their sustainability. People may get involved not only by doing the trail, but also by looking at the artwork online or maybe making a bid if they're interested. The funds will 100% go to the preservation and doubling of the tiger numbers. Once the trail finishes, there will always be content at WWF, particularly in Singapore as a hub for this particular project where more information will be gathered.
Highlight: Artists’ Voices From the Tiger Trail
Each unique artwork represents a unique perspective on how climate change, poaching, and deforestation are affecting tigers in the wild. Click ahead to read what the tiger means to these select artists, expressed in their own words and through their art.
- Ashley Yeo
- Bharti Kher & Subodh Gupta
- David White
- Ian Davenport
- Putu Sutawijaya
- Red Hong Yi
- Ronnie Wood
- Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch
- Zhang Huan
Ashley YeoTiger with Flowers
“Featuring falling flowers over the tiger, the painted florals feature various species of endangered and rare flowers as a reminder to preserve the remaining landscapes for the protected flora and fauna. Once they are extinct we would no longer be able to enjoy their beauty.”
Bharti Kher & Subodh GuptaPULI
In a one-of-its-kind collaboration, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta come together again for charity, to create an artwork that extends both artists’ long-standing explorations of found objects and ritual within the everyday. Combining elements from their signature materials – the utensil, and the bindi – with a fibreglass tiger head, the unique piece speaks simultaneously to their commitment towards art as a vehicle for social good.
“I have featured Tigers in my work for the last ten years, highlighting their plight as an endangered species, through my portraits in oils and watercolours. I wanted to connect this journey with my sculpture, reflecting the same materials that I use such as the 24 Carat Gold Leaf. My aim was to create movement and a realistic quality to the work, whilst highlighting the scarcity and precious existence of these magnificent creatures.”
Ian DavenportChromatic Tiger
Ian has taken inspiration from his main signature works of controlled dynamic pouring of paint, but here his unique lines suggest the individuality of tiger stripes. The stripes are rendered in bright colourful, dynamic colours to emphasise its majestic unique beauty, contrasted against the black areas of absence and loss.
"I am very happy to support this important cause from the WWF and spread awareness about tigers and tiger habitats in danger.”
“Keselamat maklut hidup untuk menyelamatkan kehidupan dunia.”
“The salvation of living beings to save the life of the world.”
Red Hong YiEndangered Forms
“The concept invites audiences to consider the survival of two beautiful forms, the passion, dedication and sacrifice that is required to keep them alive and the consequences if we fail. Materials and processes employed are based on those found in traditional crafts. The main construction material is rattan, similar to the making of the lion dance head. Knotting and cording are used to secure the joints, showcasing the art of Chinese knots.”
Ronnie WoodSave Us
“He is meant to bluntly and directly remind the world of the imminent demise of the tiger- Hoping to bring stark awareness to people of the critical situation facing us regarding the fragility of their preservation.”
The sculpture is being displayed in the form of an old antique found in a museum. Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch has applied the ceramic patterns of Chinese Porcelain that once belonged to Augustus the Strong to a tiger sculpture. Augustus II traded his highly reputed Dragoon soldiers for 151 porcelain pieces to gain recognition and status as a powerful and sophisticated king. This story has fascinated the artist and regularly become a source of his aesthetic inspiration. In old Siam, wildlife trades were common, and their value made them a part of the tribute trading in many places is illegal, but tigers continue to be hunted for financial gain and other benefits. Eventually, if we continue like this, tigers might disappear, only remaining as a memory and a part of history.
Zhang HuanPoppy Tiger
“The core of my art comes from the Tibetan culture of Kangrinboqe. The skull elements are the symbol of the patron gods in Tibetan culture. To me, they are spirits, representing every life entity and life cell from the universe. The tiger is densely covered with brightly colored skulls in order to convey the natural law of coexistence between us and the tiger, human and nature.”
“The tiger has been a great source of inspiration for me, and when presented with the opportunity to paint a life size sculpture I wanted nothing more than to paint it as it is: a tiger as a tiger. The identity of the tiger for me is tied to their bold black stripes. And just as the stripes seem to be leaving the sculpture, the future of these beautiful beasts' existence may become more mythical than real.”