Art for Elephants

Satao
Satao
Photo courtesy the artist.

Wendy Maruyama is an artist with a cause. Each year, tens of thousand of elephants — as well as thousands of other animals — are illegally killed for their ivory. This dismaying reality has been the motivation for activist Maruyama’s latest body of work, “The wildLIFE Project.” Debuting at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft on September 18, “Wendy Maruyama: The wildLIFE Project” highlights Maruyama’s skills as an expert craftswoman and furniture-maker — and features objects that not only recall the beauty of our world’s largest land mammal but also honor their sacred value.

Inspired by her recent travels to Kenya, Maruyama has constructed several types of objects for this exhibition. The most lifelike of these are the enormous elephant masks, which are mounted on the walls like trophy heads from a hunt. The jointed construction of the masks — which were produced from many small wooden panels that have been tied together with bits of string — indicates Maruyama's intimate observation of the elephant's features and impregnates the works with a sense of potential animation. Maruyama has also created several shrine-like structures that pay tribute to the endangered species. Modeling these works from Buddhist altars, the artist incorporates interactive, sensory elements such as fresh flowers, burning incense and ringing steel bells. The result is a soulful exhibition space in which viewers can encounter the majesty of the elephant and consider species’ precarious existence.

Maruyama also provides visitors with a means to action by supplementing her meditative works with educational resources, including documentary screenings and information about advocacy groups. HCCC curator Kathryn Hall notes that Maruyama not only wants audiences to consider the plight of elephants, but “to think about other endangered species…and about the responsibility we have as humans as caretakers of the Earth.”

“Wendy Maruyama: The wildLIFE Project” runs September 18, 2015-January 3, 2016 at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main. An opening reception will take place September 18, 5:30-8 p.m., and a talk by Maruyama will be held November 21 at 2 p.m. More information at 713-529-4848 and www.crafthouston.org.


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