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BORN FREE: It was so wonderful seeing Born Free again and I just marveled at how beautiful, expressive, intelligent and socially-engaged lions are. The lions were filmed superbly, as was Africa and other wildlife. Like Joy and George Adamson with Elsa the lioness, we too took off Christian’s collar symbolically for our first walk with him on African soil and the beginning of his natural life. I will never forget it.

It is appalling to think how animal populations have diminished since 1964 when the film was made. There has been an approximately 80% reduction in numbers since, and only 20,000 lions remain in the wild.

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BLOOD LIONS: There are many sad lions in Blood Lions, the recent documentary on canned hunting in South Africa (watch the trailer here). Ian Michler, a well known South African conservationist who participated in the documentary, introduced it at selected viewings in Australia.  In up to 200 unregulated facilities, lionesses are forced to have too many cubs.  After birth, the cubs are quickly taken away and are hand-fed to become human-friendly. Tourists pay to pat them as cubs and walk with them when a little older. Ultimately they are shot in enclosures by “hunters”. Like other animals, unwanted lions are sold for their bones and other animal parts to the Asian market. Volunteers, who pay to work at these facilities, are conned into thinking they are contributing to conservation. They are not. Breeding lions for canned hunting is not an insurance against the catastrophic decline in the numbers of wild lions.

The people making money out of canned hunting are mainly older Apartheid-era white men who, I imagine, have as little respect for the rights and welfare of lions as they did for black Africans.

President Zuma giggled about Cecil the lion’s death, describing it as “just an incident”.

Donalea Patman of fortheloveofwildlife who organised the viewings of Blood Lions, was so outraged by canned hunting that she wrote a letter to our Environment Minister Hunt. This has resulted in the ban on the importation of lion animal body parts and trophies into Australia which is an incredible achievement, and is the most effective way of eliminating canned hunting. Perhaps some of you may be inspired to write to the relevant ministers in your own countries – especially the EU and the USA.

GLOBAL MARCH FOR RHINOS, ELEPHANTS AND LIONS: On Saturday October 3rd we will meet at the Sydney Town Hall at 11.00 am and we are to be addressed by Mark Pearson of the Animal Justice Party in Martin Place. See details here.

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CHRISTIAN THE LION: I loved a recent and very thoughtful email from Janice who said that Christian was obviously “loved, nurtured, cared for, and plain adored”. She goes on “But Christian’s tale isn’t a tale of tears. His tale is that of forever love, forever friendship, and of eternal freedom. No tears need to be shed for that lucky lion. If anyone wants to weep, he/she can weep for the Cecils who never received the blessings that were showered on Christian”.

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WORLD: Europe is experiencing the largest transmigration of people since the 2nd World War. Germany is expecting 800,000 by the end of the year which is extraordinarily generous.  Some other EU countries are less welcoming and because of the volume of people, there is now talk of borders soon being closed.  The social and political consequences cannot be predicted. Lebanon and Jordan are also overwhelmed by refugees. Aid agencies do not have the resources to cope and urgently need donations.  Winter is approaching. Beyond making donations, the Saudis and wealthy Gulf States do not seem particularly helpful.

Last year 60 million people were displaced around the world, and 120 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

You may donate to the UNHCR Syria Crisis here. It is sad that it has taken the photograph of a drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi to galvanise the world into action, despite many drownings in the Mediterranean over the last few months and 71 people recently asphyxiated in a truck. .

PM Abbott’s idea of a contribution to this humanitarian disaster is, apparently, by asking President Obama to invite Australia to drop bombs in Syria. We have accepted.  Doesn’t anyone ever learn?  What is the strategic aim or hoped for outcome in Syria? Bombing Syria will only cause more deaths and refugees.  If Assad is ousted who will fill the vacuum?  Russia is extremely unlikely to allow this to happen and is apparently ready to assist Assad.

Our unnecessary involvement can only further alienate our own Muslim population, as will the discriminatory intention to select mostly Christian Syrians ahead of others in our promised 12,000 refugee intake.

Abbott’s policies on asylum seekers of just turning their boats back to Indonesia – to an unknown future – were recently described in The New York Times as “unconscionable”, “inhumane” and of “dubious legality”. While Abbott is increasingly unpopular here in the polls, he is becoming a poster boy for some of the lunatic Tea Party Republicans in the USA. The popularity of Donald Trump is very disconcerting.

It will be fascinating to watch Jeremy Corbyn, the new socialist  leader of the UK Labour Party, and see how popular he will be. He is certainly a refreshing antidote to previous leaders.  In comparison, it is hard to know what our own Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten actually believes in. He is not as disliked as Abbott but is not performing well either. He has also made inexcusable gaffes, and is too close to the union movement. Unlike the PM however, Shorten’s party seems united behind him.

Update since first published: Tony Abbott has been removed as Prime Minister by his own party.  Bravo.  He was challenged and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull who in contrast to Abbott is intelligent, sophisticated and moderate. Turnbull is independently wealthy, arrogant and not particularly astute politically. Many Australians are very happy today that we have a new PM who is not so captive to vested interests and rigid ideology, who actually believes that climate change is real and requires urgent action, and that Australia should become a republic.

Bulga Coal Mine, Hunter Valley. Image sourced from The Australian.

Bulga Coal Mine, Hunter Valley. Image sourced from The Australian.

GREENIES: We are holding progress and development back in Australia!  We are the new scapegoats to distract from the government’s economic failures. PM Abbott is not going to “protect the environment at the expense of the economy”. Planned legislation would prevent environmental court challenges by 3rd parties. For example, I would have no right to participate in a court challenge to a mine, or to protect the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, if I did not reside nearby.  Ag-gag laws are also being considered. While ostensibly under the guise of “bio-security” and concern for the health of farmed animals like chickens and pigs, these laws are really an attempt to stop animal activists trespassing and exposing these cruel practices.

Apparently, if the proposed mining in the Galilee Basin in Queensland goes ahead, the world has no chance of limiting global warming by 2 degrees. One of the mines is owned by Mr. Adani who is a very wealthy Indian who is close to PM Modi.  A port would have to be expanded and would require dredging near the Great Barrier Reef. The company does not have a good environmental record to put it mildly. This proposal  is very unlikely to go ahead and it is not because of us “greenies”  – an expression I don’t particularly like. It will be primarily because of the low price of coal and that coal is becoming a stranded asset.  Major banks are refusing to finance the project.  The momentum for alternative renewable energy and divesting in fossil fuel shares will just keep growing. Realistically, coal will have a role to play for decades to come – but it will be a diminishing one.

In a bizarre move, the Mineral Council of Australia has a promotional campaign “Coal Is Amazing” starring a lump of coal!  It was immediately ridiculed widely.  Our PM Abbott has of course said “Coal is good for humanity”.  He also said that wind farms are “ugly” – could anything be uglier or more destructive of the environment  than the Bulga mine in the photograph above?  Could anything be more unsightly or unhealthy for the devastated local community?  Shenhua are proposing a mine like this beside the Liverpool Plains which has Australia’s richest food -producing soil.  A mine like this could only destroy the water aquifers.

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CULLING: There is a campaign building to cruelly cull feral cats by baiting, and for restrictions on pet cats,  I will return to this subject in due course.  After an unusual 14 shark attacks on the NSW coast of Australia this year, there are calls to cull sharks, and a Jaws-like fear for the impact on the looming summer tourist season.  Apparently one reason for the sharks is their attraction to the “balls” of millions of small fish unusually close to the coast.  People are not sure what is causing this. There were several fatal shark attacks in West Australia last year, and the culling of sharks has been a very contentious and unresolved issue.

VALE: Oliver Sacks said “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet”.  What an intelligent and interesting man he was.

Khaled al-Asaad the 82 year old Syrian archaeologist was murdered by IS in Palmyra, and now the irreplaceable Temple of Bel and Temple of Baalshamin have been destroyed..

VIEWING: Last weekend I’ve enjoyed visiting the 2015 Sydney Contemporary Art Fair and the Sydney Antiques Fair.  I’ve loved watching the US Tennis Open and our Rugby League football finals.  The most popular recent TV shows in Australia have been cat and dog videos – programs that were probably quickly assembled when another show was cancelled. Their success hardly surprises many of us – we know what joy these animals bring into our lives.

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Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Christian. Photograph by Ace, 1972.

Christian at Kora Photograph by Ace, 1972.

Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 at Ilfracombe Zoo, in Devon, UK. His parents were Mary and Butch.  A few years ago we were told that Christian was actually hand-reared by one of the staff. This probably explains why Christian seemed so comfortable with us right from the start.

We are often asked how long do lions live?  I usually say 10-12 years but they can live longer in zoos.  Christian was last seen in 1973 and even at four years old was growing into one of the biggest lions George Adamson had ever seen.  He proved to be courageous and smart and survived the most dangerous years.  Ironically, George regarded Christian, the lion from London, as one of the most successful rehabilitations.

The murder of Cecil the lion by an American hunter in Zimbabwe continues to be condemned around the world.

Let’s ensure Cecil’s death was not in vain. There are several petitions in circulation relating to Cecil  –  the AVAAZ petition is to the EU and the USA authorities asking them to classify lions as an endangered species and to ban the import of any hunting trophies. This is probably the most effective way to stop these senseless deaths, and you may want to sign here.

The United Nations has recently passed a Resolution “Tackling the Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife”.

All of us must redouble our efforts to fight canned hunting, and Cecil’s death will add momentum to the campaign against the breeding of lions for hunting, and the importation of animal body parts and trophies. I ring travel agencies that advertise tours to Africa and ask airlines about their policies on these issues. All volunteers and travellers to Africa should look at this updated Volunteers in Africa Beware Facebook page to ensure they are supporting reputable wildlife sanctuaries.

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Last Monday was World Lion Day and I cannot resist sharing last year’s message from Kevin Richardson and Tau the Interrupting Lion – who roared throughout! Watch the clip here.  I met Kevin when he was in Sydney recently and he posted this photograph of us on his Facebook page and there are of course wonderful photographs of lions on there too.

I am told our YouTube reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 is circulating on Facebook again and I am receiving emails, especially through the website, www.alioncalledchristian.com.au, from people just discovering Christian’s story.  For example, Monique has just emailed “And wasn’t Christian just the most remarkable being? He took everything in his stride and managed to bridge the animal and human worlds wonderfully”.

Many of you have let us know over the years the influence Christian’s story has had on you, and we of course will never know the full extent of his legacy.  I also recently received an email from a volunteer at Stichting Leew (Lion Foundation) in the Netherlands. I was thrilled to read that the owner was so inspired by Christian’s story and his successful rehabilitation that 3 years ago he opened his own big cat sanctuary to rescue animals from circuses, zoos etc. Their aim – see here – is to look after all animals that come to them, but to return purebred wild cats to the “semi-wild” where possible.  This is of course a very complex indeed contested issue.

Also based in Holland is AAP and I do know much more about their marvellous work with rescued animals, especially big cats, after meeting their representatives at the Animal Studies Conference in Delhi in January.

AAP are soon to officially open their Spanish branch, Primadomus, and the first occupants – 2 lions and 2 tigers rescued from a French circus wagon, are already in residence. See here.

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian

GEORGE ADAMSON: The 20th of August is the anniversary of George Adamson’s murder at Kora in 1989. I love this photograph of George and Christian as it shows the love and familiarity of two good friends.  Christian looks so big I think the photograph must have been taken early in 1973 and is possibly the last photograph of him.  George, we thank you for your giant contribution to our understanding and protection of animals, and Christian…how can I express what you still mean to us and to so many others?

 OK, I confess, as it is his birthday I’ve just watched the Youtube reunion and sniffled through it as I did with Born Free last weekend.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN.

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

When we returned again to Kenya to visit Christian and George Adamson in 1972, I took a super 8 video camera.  I’ve finally had my very amateur footage transferred to DVD, and this photograph is a still from it.  The footage is a loving portrait of Christian – I remember thinking I will never remember just how beautiful all his markings were. He was growing into a very big lion, and was increasingly independent.  We didn’t know that we would never see him again. I recently showed this short, unedited footage for the first time, at a fund raising art exhibition for the Animal Welfare League NSW  in Sydney.

Animal Welfare League NSW:  I have visited the two animal shelters in Sydney (Ingleside and Kemps Creek) run by the Animal Welfare League NSW where dogs and cats wait to be “re-homed” to a suitable household.  The shelters are very well administered, in attractive settings, and depend on donations, sponsorship and the loving care of volunteers. Animals are well looked after and are assessed and  monitored by vets and animal behaviourists.  The AWL also campaigns, for example, against puppy farming, and acts on reports of animal cruelty.

Artists who generously participated in the AWL fund raising exhibition included Joanna Braithwaite (below), and Janet Laurence.   I recommend you watch Laurence’s beautiful and meditative series of animal and nature videos here.  Many artists these days are imaginatively examining human/animal and environmental inter-relationships.  They share a great love of animals and generously support causes related to animal welfare and rights.

Lengthy Tales by Joanna Braithwaite Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

Lengthy Tale 2013 by Joanna Braithwaite. Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

MAIL: Thanks for the responses to the last blog, and many of you also seem to enjoy Christian’s birthday. People loved and commented on Jiawei Shen’s portrait. Michele, for example, found the painting “mesmerising”. She also wrote “Christian is born in the month of Leo and has the life path of 9. He was born to be a spiritual gift to the universe – he was the consummate LION. The LION of LIONS!!

Joy Adamson with Elsa

Joy Adamson with Elsa. Source Elsa Conservation Trust.

ELSA: A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Elsa: the lioness who changed the world (you can view some of the clips here). The phenomenal success of Joy Adamson’s 1960 Born Free book (translated into 25 languages), and the subsequent film did help change how people thought about animals – especially “wild” animals. They were now viewed as individual beings, and hopefully this has made us more mindful of their futures. There were interviews with Virginia McKenna, who had played Joy Adamson in the film, and with Tony Fitzjohn who was George Adamson’s assistant at his camp at Kora and is now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.

Joy Adamson took the most marvellous photographs of Elsa, who was, like Christian, an exceptional lion. George realised that they should have retained the three cubs, instead of sending two to a European Zoo, as this would have made it easier to rehabilitate Elsa.  Subsequently, he knew to build a pride around Christian.

There was some good footage of Christian, especially with Tony Fitzjohn.  Christian was the first lion Tony had met, and he said they were both like new boys finding their way in the wild.

Lion in Shaft of Light

Lion in Shaft of Light by Nick Brandt

NICK BRANDT: Source Photographica in Melbourne is having another exhibition of the majestic photographs of Nick Brandt from 5 -27 October. The exhibition is the final volume in a trilogy which has been presenting a “complex and deep portrait of Africa”, and it has been fascinating to watch Brandt chart this through his powerful and exceptionally beautiful photography.  It is hard not to be depressed that many of the subjects of his photographs are facing extinction, and that there is so little effective action to save them.  80 elephants have just been poisoned in Zimbabwe.  It should be inconceivable that we may see the end of the elephant, for example, in our life time, on our watch.

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg by Nick Brandt

A recent radio interview referred to Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger which she started in India in 1973 when the tiger was on the brink of extinction.  From an estimated 40,000 in the early 20th century, numbers had shrunk to approximately 1800 by 1973.  She introduced the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973, and hunting tigers was banned and reserves created. Unfortunately, after the assassinations of her and her son, the Indian government from 1992 up to the present have made bad and late decisions and neglected necessary reforms, and tiger numbers are now down to an estimated 1700.

AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS: OK, my side lost the election and I’m a bad loser! It was inevitable however, and I hope the Labor Party rediscovers some fundamental values. It has been a hung parliament yet despite an adversarial, negative and policy-free Opposition, alot of legislation was passed, and some major reforms of national significance initiated.  But it has not been a pleasant time, and has felt like one long election campaign.  It is sort of a relief that it is finally over, even if it is back to the future.

There is only one woman in Prime Minister Abbott’s 20 person cabinet (described as “pale, male and stale”) and he is dismantling our Emissions Trading Scheme and any institutions associated with climate information or policy. The climate sceptics are showing their hands, and there is not even a Minister for Science. Their replacement scheme Direct Action is not taken seriously, but perhaps will now be under scrutiny. David Suzuki, who has been visiting Sydney, has written and spoken about how Abbott is “dooming future generations”, and that “willful blindness” should be an offence.

The recently released latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that there is a 95% certainty that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming in the atmosphere and the ocean.

In the SMH, RossGittins writes that in the election the public didn’t really like either contender, confirming my own feelings, and that Labor is the eternally dissatisfied party of “reform”, while the Libs are the conservatives, “satisfied with the world as is and trying to stave of disruptive change for as long as possible”.

In contrast to his noise and daily photo ops in opposition, the Abbott government has been almost invisible, and the politicians muzzled.   There were a few spiteful sackings of public servants.  The Minister of Defence wants to keep up a “war momentum” and has his hopes on possibilities in Pakistan.  There was an immediate spat with Indonesia, our closest neighbour, just before Abbott visited.

Rupert Murdoch had a big election win after a blatantly partisan campaign against the government in his newspapers.   Too many of his journalists tarnished their reputations.  A loose cannon self proclaimed billionaire got 3 Senators and possibly himself elected (subject to a recount), and also holding the balance of power are some wild cards with very few votes who got into the Senate on preference deals.

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed by Nick Brandt

READING: I’ve actually been watching so much sport (from Rafa winning the US Open,  to football finals etc), I haven’t been reading books but I’ve heard or read interviews about:

Starting with Max is by Ying Ying who came to Australia from Hong Kong with her family, and who describes how having a dog has changed her life.  After the family cat “decided not to come to Australia and died”, she promised her daughter a dog in Sydney, much against her own wishes.  She of course fell in love with Max the dog and her daily walks in the park “awakened her senses”, and  opened her own eyes to the natural beauty of Australia.  He touched her heart and “made her a better person”.

FERAL, a recent book by George Monbiot, an environmental journalist who I have quoted in the past, is about our need for re-wilding – ‘to recover the animal in ourselves and in the Earth”.  He imagines forests regrowing, and animals returning – like the brown bears have in parts of Europe.  Wolves were exterminated from the Yellowstone National Park, but since their reintroduction there has been a restoration of plants, trees and soil, as the deer have been forced higher up the mountain.  There is an ongoing debate about deer in Bundeena – a family of deer live at the top of my garden in the Royal National Park.  As an introduced species, their eating habits do create environmental  problems.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Recently the Australian Wildlife Conservancy arranged for 6 artists to visit Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, their 6000 square kilometre conservancy in the Kimberley region of West Australia. The resulting excellent exhibition was opened by scientist/conservationist/writer/academic Tim Flannery – just sacked by the government as the chief climate commissioner!

I think conservancies and the buying up of tracts of land are an excellent future direction that offers the best protection.  In Africa various conservancies are trying to preserve or link uninterrupted corridors of land used as traditional migration routes for animals.

The AWC owns 23 properties in Australia covering 7.4 million acres.  They believe in “practical land management informed by strong science”.  These properties are offering protection to more than 1200 native animal species, and the AWC runs fire management and feral control programs.  It is possible to visit  and stay at some of their properties, observe land management practices, see wildlife and many birds, and fly in helicopters over spectacular scenery.

For visitors to Australia this would be a unique opportunity to visit a remote and beautiful part of Australia, especially with the opportunity to view Aboriginal art in places like Broome.

Needless to say, feral cats are the AWC’s  Enemy Number One!!!!

Devon Rex by Peter O'Dougherty

Devon Rex 2013 by Peter O’Doherty. Courtesy King Street Gallery.

WORLD: Obama was made to look “ham fisted” over Syria, and Putin took the chance to question American exceptionalism – in the New York Times. The chemical weapons issue just gives Assad more time to continue killing and displacing his own population.  The difficulty is  – especially post Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – another American intervention would be another grave mistake.

Sectarian violence is worsening In Iraq.  Banning the Muslim Brotherhood and forcing them underground in Egypt seems extremely provocative – they did actually win the election!  Some commentators are saying the Arab Spring has been replaced by Islamic terrorism, as most recently demonstrated in Nairobi. Oil has begun to flow again in Libya. The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been surprisingly/suspiciously conciliatory to the US after 30 years. Pope Francis is sounding encouragingly human.

ECONOMY:  From my perusal of business reports in the media, some people are unfortunately warning about a new wave of global financial turmoil. Apparently new money from the printing presses of the US, EU and Japan have caused “a sucking of funds from emerging markets” i.e. countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.

Fortunately China remains “reasonably robust”, and, according to the leaked internal memo Document 9, the Chinese leadership seems more worried about the dire threats and dangers posed by discussions of “democracy”, “universal values of human rights” and a “free press”.

Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan

Ned Kelly 1946 by Sidney Nolan. Source Royal Academy of Arts

LONDON: A large exhibition entitled Australia has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. There are 200 paintings from 200 years with 146 artists, with the broad theme of “landscape”.  While it contains most of our major artists and some iconic paintings, it has been criticised for being too general, and curatorially old fashioned.  One critic described the Aboriginal art as “tourist tat”.  As some of the most widely admired Aboriginal artists are represented, few would agree with him.  Australian art has been overlooked in the UK for a long time, and this now quite controversial exhibition may – or may not – lead to an interest in more focused exhibitions of Australian art.

USA: I have to mention even more mass shootings in the US recently.  As the mother of a victim said about Congress “Who else has to die before you get it?”.  I think in Australia we find it hard to imagine how the National Gun Lobby is so powerful and even seem to be extending its influence.

Apparently in The Right Nation, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue that the “centre of gravity of America opinion is much further to the right” than in other rich countries.  The Republican Party can seem very heartless, especially at present with the current threats to defund Obamacare, and to “shut down” the government.

The sophisticated American Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, is returning to America.  When asked how similar Americans and Australians are, he said we are 80% the same and 20% different.  In Australia “there is a great levelling of all people and a great appreciation that no one should think too much of ourselves” and that successful Australians “wear their celebrity and their accomplishments very lightly”.

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

William Abbey, who grew up in England and lives in Florida, has shared interests in some of the subjects I write about and like many of you, emails me about them.  I appreciate this, especially any information concerning animals and how we can help them.  William loves panthers and polar bears especially. Click here and here for two articles he has recently sent about the rehabilitation of the Florida panther, and organisations working for the protection of polar bears and their habitat.

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

I recently enjoyed the exhibition Talk Show where artists responded to the “televisual landscape of this genre of syndicated entertainment”.  I bought a painting of Oprah Winfrey from artist Anney Bounpraseuth’s Wailing Wall series. Part Two, Talk Show (after the break) opens at Kudos Gallery, Paddington, Sydney on 15th October. I spoke to co-curator JD Reforma about appearing on Oprah and The View etc, and the exhibition did make me reflect on the “notion of celebrity”, and the “socioeconomic construction of failure and success”.  It was never one of my dreams to go on Oprah. It was a big audience to fail in front of!  While it was brilliant for Christian’s story of course, I personally found the whole experience rather nerve wracking!

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth