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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Art from the South African Bush

The Bushveld is a unique wooded savanna habitat in southern Africa. It is a mosaic of twisting trees, dense brush and open grassland that stretches from South Africa into Botswana and Zimbabwe. Covering an area larger than Utah, it is home to iconic wildlife such as African elephant, lion, hippopotamus, and is one of the last strongholds of the critically endangered black rhinoceros. As a place that has fostered early humanity for hundreds of thousands of years, it is familiar in a way that is difficult to express. Many of the wild fruits are safe for us to eat (and quite delicious). Plants that are not edible often have astounding medicinal properties. The chewed-up bark of a marula tree relieves the discomfort of an insect sting faster than any medication I have known in the modern world. The weather is generally warm and comfortable, punctuated by seasons of powerful and exhilarating rain storms.

What is it like in the Bushveld? Two years ago, I remember lying in my tent. A humid breeze carried the botanical scents of grass and Trembletop, a lacey nocturnal flower. A few elephants had moved into camp under the cover of darkness and were feeding on the raisin bushes mere feet from where I lay. The elephant’s trumpet is unmistakable, but the bulk of their communication is actually done in low purring rumbles that resonate in your chest like a bass guitar. Surrounded by the deep vibration of elephant conversation, the bubbling call of reed frogs, and the sweet smell of white flowers, I dreamt of creating art that captured some spirit of this experience.

January 2022 marked the completion of just such an endeavor. The Bushveld Series is a collection of 12 large paintings made from wildlife footprints from the South African bushveld. The idea behind this artwork is to raise funding and awareness for conservation efforts in Africa, and to help connect people to this iconic ecosystem. The series tells a story of what you might experience on a safari in the bushveld. Each piece represents an encounter or realization you may have as you journey through the bush remembering what it means to be wild.

Why is it important to connect with wilderness? We tend to forget that we, too, are a part of nature, dependent on the actions of thousands of species directly and indirectly every single day. Understandably, most of us live in human-dominated environments which makes it easy to overlook the intricate relationships between other species that support our existence. That is why I use live animal tracks in my paintings. To share something real and organic. To help people bring a piece of the wild into their lives. Because I believe a sense of connection is essential if we are to care for the well-being of our wildernesses in the future.

One of the biggest threats to the survival of African ecosystems is habitat loss. It is estimated that there are roughly 20,000 lions left in the wild today. Shockingly, this is less than half the student population at my alma mater, the University of Arizona. And this is not an issue of breeding, it is an issue of space. As our populations grow and we become more industrialized, we are leaving no safe space for wildlife to coexist. That is why investing in the protection of nature reserves is vital for the future of species, like the lion and the entire ecosystem. Fortunately, there are some exceptional organizations addressing these challenges.

Since its conception, The Bushveld Series has raised over $30,000 for the conservation nonprofit, African Parks. This organization manages 19 nature reserves across 11 countries in Africa. They take a holistic approach to conservation, working in partnership with local communities and governments to rehabilitate and manage protected areas across the continent. These lasting commitments to safeguard wild landscapes will be absolutely essential as human populations continue to grow and develop. Up to 60% of the proceeds from each painting sale in The Bushveld Series is donated to African Parks to support this vital work. 

Now that the Bushveld Series is complete, I look to highlight other unique ecosystems in my art. This summer, I’m embarking on a tracking expedition to the jungles of Central Africa to collect footprints from animals like the Western lowland gorilla, forest elephants, chimpanzee and many more endemic species of the Congo Basin. These tracks will be used in my next painting collection, The Congo Series, which will continue to support African Parks’ work to protect this rich and biodiverse habitat. It is my goal to shed light on the threatened species within this remote and mysterious region to expose what we risk losing through our collective lack of awareness. However, the message of my work is not one of fear, but one of hope. 

What happens to our wild places in the next few decades will be our shared legacy. It will show us how we value life that is different from our own and determine what we leave for future generations (both human and otherwise). I believe the gap between apathy and action can be bridged by a sense of connection. A connection to places we never go and animals we rarely meet. An understanding that we are forever a part of this biological world.This is how we foster respect and appreciation for all walks of life and how we prioritize places where life simply remains … wild. 

To learn more, visit www.walkslifeart.com.

To support Africa Parks directly, visit www.africanparks.org.


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