Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Upping the Ante

*There was only one valuation in my mind. £48,000 - the price of a single rhino horn on the black market*

In recent years I have become increasingly concerned about the rate at which we are losing our rhinos. By ‘our’ I mean collectively, as sentient beings on this planet. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were half a million rhinos roaming the world. As it stands, there are fewer than 30,000 (all species combined). If we were rhinos, all of us would fit in Leicester City's football Stadium, and there would still be room to spare. 

Since 2014, South Africa alone has lost almost 3,500 rhinos to poaching. That’s over 3 a day. Each time we all sat down to a meal in the past 3 years, South Africa lost another rhino to crime. Our species has driven this dramatic decline, and we will be the poorer if we drive them to extinction. 

As a trade, rhino horn has always baffled me. Outdated beliefs in horn possessing medicinal qualities have been unequivocally quashed by science. A rhino horn is made from Keratin - the very same protein that makes up our fingernails, hair and the outer layer of our skin. Consuming large quantities of it will, at best, give you an upset stomach. 

South Africa recently made legal a domestic trade in rhino horn, in the hope of crushing the illegal trade and bringing down the value of horn. I am not so optimistic. Legitimising the trade only gives poachers and traffickers a veil to hide behind when illegally laundering  horns, and it sends out mixed messages to the rest of the world which overwhelmingly backs a ban. Do we really want to set a precedent where rhinos are farmed like cattle? And for what? The horn is of no benefit to humans, only rhinos. It is up to us to act as guardians not owners, and it has been shown that we can still protect rhinos in the wild if we set our minds to it.

Many artists do what they can to help protect wildlife. I drew this piece to draw attention to this brutal trade, and create something that could shock and make people think twice. When it was shortlisted for the final of the DSWF Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition, I was asked to put a price on it. There was only one valuation in my mind. £48,000 - the price of a single rhino horn on the black market.


Any purchaser of the Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibits is supporting the conservation work of the David Shepherd Wildlife FoundationAny purchaser would be investing in conservation and creativity as an antidote to those purchasing rhino horn and fuelling the decline of rhinos across the world.

Mind boggling figures get banded about so readily these days that the impact of £48K for a rhino horn gets lost in 10 figure divorce settlements for Brexit, or the price of Kim Kardashian’s new earrings. I want people to be shocked when they see the price of this artwork, no bigger than an actual rhino horn. The harsh reality is that there are many people in this world who will happily pay that to acquire a horn. For whatever delusions of grandeur or medical immortality, ultimately all you end up with is another dead rhino. In a rapidly growing online world, where the speed at which we consume our news is ever on the rise, visual content is key to grabbing people’s attention. While few could purchase this piece at this price, everyone can help spread the word and give the plight of rhinos the oxygen of publicity. We can all spread the word, provoking thought and discussion about the value we ascribe to wildlife dead or alive. My hope is that this piece will earn its value from the awareness it generates about this bloodthirsty trade.

Exhibition details:

Venue: Mall Galleries, SW1, London
Dates: 28 June - 2 July 2017
Further details: 
https://davidshepherd.org/wildlife-artist-year-2017

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