George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian (c. late 1972- early 1973)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

During the last world crisis, the Global Financial Crisis, Christian’s “reunion” footage with us in Kenya on YouTube was a soothing and positive diversion, and this helped to make it so popular. I have been getting emails recently with people saying they have been watching Christian’s story as a distraction, or to make them feel better in “lockdown”. It amazes me that Christian still casts this spell over so many of us.

See here should you want to watch the version of our reunion with Christian with Whitney Houston’s song, as it gets harder to find on YouTube, and needless to say, it is my favourite version.

Many of you no doubt celebrated World Lion Day on August 10th, and International Tiger Day on the 29th July.

LIONS: We all remain concerned with the crisis in lion and wildlife populations. I am presuming “canned hunting” is not thriving with the widespread COVID-19 virus in South Africa, but at a time like this the owners of the numerous “lion farms” that have profited from this dreadful practice may start to maltreat the animals including not feeding them properly or looking after them. Even worse, the current situation may encourage the participation in the illegal trade in lion body parts. The human population in South Africa, with widespread unemployment, is also faring very badly.

Image source: Allen & Unwin

While I have as yet only read an extract, there is a new book The Last Lions in Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species by Anthony Ham. He is, to my surprise, an Australian.

The author states that as of 2019, there are approximately 22,509 lions left on the African continent. At the end of the C19 there were 200,000. They have disappeared from 95% of their historical ranges, and from 26 countries. By now we know most of the reasons, primarily, destruction of habitats, hunting and human and animal conflict. The author also notes that there are approximately only 4,000 tigers left in the wild, and 1,000 mountain gorillas.

Depressingly, in my blog after blog over the years, we have been watching these figures diminish despite many organisations and individuals doing good work. Rather like action, (or inaction) on climate change, nothing seems to be reversing the “extinction vortex” we are witnessing.

These giraffes from the Mogo Wildlife Park, NSW, nearly died in the bushfires and have now welcomed a new born calf

BUSHFIRES:  In Australia we had a horrific fire season with 10 million hectares of the east coast burnt, which was news around the world. We were all in shock at the scope, the intensity, and that the fires were described as “unstoppable”. I live surrounded by a National Park which was very dry, but we were lucky this time. The smoke and air quality from the fires was a danger to health over vast areas. I put my art collection in storage, and like many others, had a suitcase and the cat box by the door for months on end.

Quite a few people lost their lives, including fire fighters, and many lost their houses and businesses. Many animals died – they estimated a billion at the time, but that has just been updated to 3 billion dead or displaced. This does not include the cattle and sheep lost. Despite the early start to the fire season and the incredible ferocity of the fires, despite all intelligent people and fire experts pointing to climate change as a factor, our conservative government said “now was not the time” to talk about such things. Now we are heading towards the next season as ill prepared as we were last year. We continue not just to ignore the experts but also indigenous fire practices honed over centuries.

As many as 5,000 koalas lost their lives during the fires, and their habitats destroyed.  There is even talk of extinction. Our NSW Government has stated it wants to double koala populations by 2050, but this government has not stopped land clearing and habitat destruction, which like creeping urbanization, are the major threat to koalas, along with bush fires, disease, dogs and feral animals. The government fully supports mining, even allowing mining that threatens Sydney’s water supply.

Australia has the worst record in the world in relation to the extinction of mammals – 30 species lost since colonization (1788), and 14 in the past 50 years.

COVID-19: Who would have thought how much the world would have changed since Christian’s last birthday? We have all been overtaken by COVID-19 and I hope all of you and your families are managing. Everyone has been affected in some way. Australia had coped quite well up until recently, although due to some inexcusable quarantine carelessness, we now seem to be having a dangerous “second wave” in Victoria, and some outbreaks in my state of NSW. Luckily as an island continent we can close our borders, although our state borders are more porous. The lucrative international tourism industry and the international student sector, have been decimated.

Interestingly, the Federal Government has responded quite well and suddenly and unusually, listened to medical experts and scientists – unlike their ongoing climate change denial. The government is now getting very worried about the economy and is anxious to reopen everything and for it to be business as usual. They have been forced to embrace spending and borrowing billions of dollars after criticizing the Opposition for years, although it was the ALP who were then in government and successfully navigated us out of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our economy and jobs growth have not been strong for years, and as yet there are no proposals or ideas for job creation or economic stimulation. The Treasurer even referenced Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as his models for economic recovery which is rather indicative of the government’s outdated ideological mindset.

The arts and entertainment industry here has also been decimated and given very little support, and none of it as yet has been forthcoming. Galleries and museums are tentatively reopening. Under the cover of “Covid”, funding to our national broadcaster the ABC, universities (especially “the Humanities”), the public sector and the arts, all imagined enemies of this government, will be minimized.

People around the world have appreciated surprisingly clear skies and clean water. Now would be an ideal time to have a new low carbon and green approach to the economy, and transition to renewables. In Australia we still don’t have an energy policy that business can invest in, and the government remains fixated on coal and gas. Now is also the chance to review: overdue taxation reform; much needed public housing policy; aged care; wage growth and the casualization of labour; and to consider free universal childcare, and the vital role of women (and migrants) in the health and service industries.

I’m glad I don’t live in Sweden where my age group seems to have just been sacrificed for the greater good, although their economy, and the number of deaths, does not indicate that this approach has been successful. I have been very worried about friends in the UK, the USA and Brazil. Trump and Bolsonaro have both been criminally negligent. I am also very worried about friends in India, and especially Rajat, a very intelligent and dedicated young fan of Christian’s who is battling a serious disease I’m sure he will overcome, and my thoughts are with him and his family.

Over the last year, the leaders of America, Russia and China have shown their true colours, and there has been a dangerous unravelling of the old world order. Cyber surveillance and warfare is the norm and it is difficult to ascertain the truth with the claims of “fake news” and the widespread conspiracy theories. In the USA I have no confidence in Biden, but removing Trump would do the world a service. My prayers for the future of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, and for the citizens of Beirut.

Congratulations to the few countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam that acted quickly and effectively against the virus. In Vietnam they have banned the trading in wild animals and their body parts which is good, although some are allowed for “medicinal purposes”. Wild life products do seem to be incubators of disease.

So take care, wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance.

The ice keeps melting…. Photograph by Michael Ginzburg for PBS.org

We listen to scientists and medical experts with the epidemic – why don’t we listen to climate change scientists and their predictions?

SELF-ISOLATION: How have you all managed in self-isolation? People initially seem to have found it frustrating but also quite interesting. Most have enjoyed more time with the family, although “home schooling” has been a challenge for many. With so many working from home, and Zoom, this may change work habits and paradigms. Musicians have made music in their bedrooms, and artists and galleries have been imaginative about art online. Cooking, eating, gardening and DIY home renovations seem to have been popular.

Many people binge watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix but I resisted, although I did later see a documentary on these unsavoury people, messing with such beautiful animals. There are more big cats in private hands in the USA than are left in the wild. There is no conservation value as their breeding practices are indiscriminate. What is going to happen to the animals if these zoos are closed down, and the owners in jail?

Many of us have been supported at this time by our companion animals, who have had to adjust to us being home much more! Initially there were many more adoptions from animal shelters which was encouraging and understandable. I do wish even more people would adopt these animals, at risk of euthanasia, rather than buying expensive hybrid dogs like Cavoodles, Groodles and Moodles. I have noticed that Dachshunds have become very popular. My cat has been a great source of comfort even if she has manoeuvred/manipulated me into now being fed on demand, and I now realise she can sleep 23 hours a day.

I have got some overdue writing projects actually finished or well advanced, and have read some very good books. I have found classical music very soothing. Luckily Bundeena where I live is very beautiful and this winter quite mild so I walk every day. I have always felt in quarantine here!

“Misunderstanding” by Tony Albert. Courtesy Sullivan +Strumpf.

BLM: Aboriginal people in Australia have been protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world, and of course they have much to relate to. As in America, there has been a growing section of the white population that also agree that enough is enough. Aborigines have a shocking incarceration rate, and there have been many Aboriginal deaths in custody, with no-one EVER bought to account.

White people have increasingly had to face our privilege in the last few years, and acknowledge the results of dispossession of indigenous people by colonisation. We also have to realise the amount of “casual” racism that exists, let alone the overt racism people of colour deal with on a daily basis. Enough IS enough!

Recently, the mining company Rio Tinto blew up two caves in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that were sacred to Aboriginal people. Artefacts dated to 46,000 years had been found there, so the caves were one of Australia’s most significant archaeological sites. The company said it was a “misunderstanding” – hence why one of our best Aboriginal artists Tony Albert called his artwork “Misunderstanding”. Google him to see more of his wonderful work. The nation was very shocked – briefly.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Our thoughts are with our WFA staff in India where the virus is particularly severe. The best news however is that the new cattery at the Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) is now being built and finally cats will have the necessary space that they require. We are particularly grateful to Laura Louie and Harry Bohm who very generously donated money to purchase the additional land and build the cattery. I am very much hoping I can visit when travel is permitted again.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s new book

BOOK: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book Lost Companions, Reflections on the Death of Pets. This is possibly his 13th book, and dogs have been his speciality. Many of us have had the trauma of dealing with the death of loved pets, and Jeffrey recounts various stories about our special bonds with animals and the different ways people deal with their grief. I always regret that it is not possible to express our last words, explanations, or our thanks to them for all they have meant to us.

Jeffrey mentions Christian, as an example of interspecies relationships. Of course we don’t know what happened to Christian which I am quite relieved about. That is one death and trauma we didn’t have to face. About our reunion with Christian, Jeffrey, who is a friend of mine, says about me “I understand why this single encounter has stamped his life forever”. I think it has but I’m not sure how! While I was not surprised Christian remembered us, I may have been surprised at just how exuberant he was. Jeffrey noted what I also found extraordinary, that Christian’s “pride” who were not familiar with humans, milled around us, caught up in and sharing Christian’s excitement. He was loved by lions and humans alike.

MOROCCO: I was very fortunate to have a great trip to Morocco, Paris and London late last year, as international travel for us all is unlikely for the foreseeable future. There were cats and kittens everywhere in Morocco – no doubt too many, but I was pleased to see they were treated well.

In Fez I visited the American Fondouk, which was established in 1927 by an American woman to offer free veterinary care for “four legged” animals – mules, horses and donkeys. If these animals get injured, the families often have no other source of income. American Fondouk (hotel) is very well resourced with the latest equipment – for weighing and moving heavy animals, an operating theatre, and a test laboratory etc etc. The staff and volunteers were very welcoming to me – as they are to anyone who would like to visit and see their work. The founder’s family continue to support the Fondouk, but extra donations are always appreciated.

Speaking to the two young vets who showed me around, I said I had been lucky enough when I was younger to meet and know Joy and George Adamson. To my surprise, they had never heard of Elsa the lioness, the Adamsons, or Born Free. They said “we only know about those two young Australians who took their lion from London back to Africa”. They seemed to believe that I was one of them!

I was very shocked that generations now may not know Elsa’s extraordinary story, and the film and book Born Free that affected millions of people all over the world in the 1960s. Although I didn’t read the book at the time, I was very aware of the story. We were fascinated by Elsa’s affectionate relationship with the Adamsons and her successful rehabilitation back into the wild. It was almost unimaginable. Like David Attenborough who had begun making his documentaries, the spotlight was put on wildlife, and the affirmation that, like us, all animals, including “wild” animals, were sentient beings. I finally read Born Free a few years ago, and Elsa, like Christian, was an exceptionally intelligent animal. The Adamsons could take her on holidays, and she would just jump into the back of their vehicle. Joy Adamson was a very creative woman, and the photographs in the book were wonderful.  I have seen the film more recently at fund raising events, and it remains amazingly fresh, and a feast for lovers of lions.

I can’t really completely explain or understand why Christian’s story still has such resonance so many years later. He was very charismatic, attractive, and full of personality.  His life was very well documented, and years later, he has had the benefit of the social media age and YouTube.  He demonstrated an obvious capacity for love. He too was successfully rehabilitated, and we can presume a happy ending. For some people our story also represents a more adventurous and less regulated era …… what do you think?

I would love you to Leave a Comment on your thoughts on what Christian and his story (or Elsa and Born Free) has meant to you!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN we are all still thinking of you, especially today.

Christian photograph by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian photographed by Ace Bourke 1972

I recently attended the Venice Biennale and then visited other European cities. I saw such interesting and sometimes great contemporary art that I thought I should blog about the highlights.

Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the oldest and most prestigious in the world. The 57th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia runs until November 26th 2017.

Australian Pavilion, showing the work Vigil from Tracey Moffatt’s MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings

Australia’s representative this year is Tracey Moffatt and having known her since 1984 and watched her career with fascination, like many others, I wanted to attend the opening.

A magical day began with the hauntingly beautiful voice of Deborah Cheetham singing in an Aboriginal language.  Tracey  Moffatt’s  MY HORIZON  consists of 2 evocative photographic bodies of work Passage and Body Remembers, and two new video works, Vigil and The White Ghosts Sailed In.

 

Passage by Tracey Moffatt from MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings.

According to art critic Holland Cotter for the New York Times the Biennale is “tame” and “does not reflect a drastically changed world, and it fails to cohere”. Tracey Moffatt however, was singled out as one of the few artists to leave a “lasting impression” with her work touching on the tragedy of mass social displacement, past and present.

In the latest Artlink magazine Djon Mundine writes about MY HORIZON and Tracey Moffatt here.

The Biennale offers a very diverse selection of artists – I was lucky to catch a talk by Mark Bradford, the lively US artist, but many others, from all over the world and working in many mediums, were not well known to me. Older women like Romania’s Greta Bratescu and the UK’s Phyllida Barlow were given overdue recognition. (Elizabeth Cummings in Australia aged 80+ is also finally getting the recognition she deserves and her exhibition Elizabeth Cummings: Interior Landscapes at the SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney runs until 23 July).

The formal Biennale is in a park called the Giardini.  30 countries have pavilions there, and another 29 are available to other countries.  The artists of some participating countries are also exhibited in other parts of Venice.

But the International Art Exhibition also includes a curated exhibition, in 2017 entitled Viva Arte Viva, and is a selection of many artists from all over the world.  This is situated in the Central Pavilion (in the Giardini), and a short walk away, at the Arsenale, the old shipyard and armory buildings.

The Arsenale provides an intriguing long walk through huge and wonderful buildings with many interesting artists of all ages and working in many mediums, and some collaborations and community projects.  Indigenous artists and African countries are quite well represented.

from Emissaries by Lisa Reihana

The centrepiece of New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana’s Emissaries is a huge screen panorama of the arrival of Captain Cook in the Pacific.  Lisa’s In Pursuit of Venus was described as the best artwork in Venice by the Sunday Times critic and a “witty mix of live action and cunning special effects” that unfolds “in a riveting animated sequence”.

In the latest Artlink magazine Nicholas Thomas writes here about Lisa Reihana and how her work is an animated digital recreation of a giant French wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la Pacifique.  This wallpaper was printed in 1804-6 and was a romanticised imagining of Oceania.

Some critics have been unkind about Damien Hirst’s 50 million pound effort Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable with extraordinary supposed “salvaged” treasures from the monumental to the exquisitely tiny and precious. These are exhibited throughout Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, two superb Venetian buildings owned by François Pinault.  Hirst’s colossal and menacing bronze Demon – 18 metres high and up to the third floor in the forecourt of the Palazzo Grassi, is unforgettable.

Demon by Damien Hirst. Image sourced from Culto.latercera.com.

Other excellent exhibitions are scattered through the city and some people have come to Venice especially to see Philip Guston and The Poet’s exhibition which is at Gallerie dell’ Accademia di Venezia until 3 September 2017.

Lorenzo Quinn - Biennale site - big hands

Lorenzo Quinn, Venice Biennale. Image sourced from The Telegraph.

20 million tourists visit Venice each year and Venetians don’t think they can absorb any more. Opposition to giant cruise liners is growing as they disgorge thousands of daytrippers that do not necessarily contribute to the economy, and the ships damage the lagoon.

Lake Como May 2017, Ace Bourke

I finally visited Lake Como and it was as lovely as I imagined. It was wonderful being in Europe again and spending time in beautiful cities, and leisurely visiting art galleries and museums with friends. I loved reading the newspapers which were full of the French and British elections and then unfortunately the terror attacks. Despite the tensions and political upheavals, people overall seemed to be primarily enjoying summer. With heightened security concerns, long queues at airports were understandable but seemingly interminable.

 

African mask by Romuald Hazoumè

PARIS: This African mask by Romuald Hazoumè was made from discarded biros he found each day.  He is one of many artists in a most exciting exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton: ART/AFRICA The new workshop. It consists of three components: a private collection begun in 1989 by Jean Pigozzi; a curated exhibition of South African artists; and African works from the Louis Vuitton collection.  It is a fascinating exhibition: an imaginative and innovative use of materials; many mediums; a chance to see/share their world view; and a melding of traditional influences and new interpretations and directions.

Writing  recently about this exhibition, The Economist claimed that contemporary African art was “the next big thing” – replacing the interest in Chinese art, and it certainly has a unique imaginative creativity and vitality.

Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton by Ace Bourke

Architect Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Fondation is undoubtedly very beautiful and a signature building.  It took 10 years to build and was apparently technologically challenging. Some buildings can be about the ego of the architect or the client, and can overwhelm the central purpose, and I think in this case some exhibition space for art was sacrificed.  Arken, south of Copenhagen was renovated in 2008, and is both an interesting and utilitarian museum of art.  In London people complained that the extension to the Tate Modern did not achieve a great deal.

The Fondazione Prada in Milan is also a strong architectural statement but I found it dark, austere and unwelcoming.  Milan was yet another historic and attractive Italian city, but with some new and exciting architecture.

Milan by Ace Bourke

I finally made it to Musée du quai Branly in Paris to see the museum where in 2013 Australian Aboriginal art had been incorporated architecturally into spaces in the building, including the cloud series by Michael Riley.  Also at this museum I saw an eclectic exhibition Picasso Primitif  (until 3 July) with paintings by him and objects that he had owned or had influenced him.  There was also a very precious exhibition La Pierre sacrée des Māori of jade objects sacred and sometimes magical to New Zealand Maoris (until 1st October).

The museum’s collection of traditional and indigenous cultural objects from all over the world is superb. Unfortunately, Australian Aboriginal art is exhibited rather badly, especially a group of bark paintings.  For decades now in Australia Aboriginal art has not been exhibited ethnographically, but as contemporary art in art galleries and museums.

In Paris I also visited art dealer Hervé Perdriolle who I initially met through a shared admiration for the work of the late Indian artist Jangargh Singh Shyam. He gave me a copy of his handsome and comprehensive book Indian Contemporary Art which concentrates on tribal artists.

The Pompidou Centre, Paris by Ace Bourke

The Pompidou Centre is 40 years old, and although a little tired looking is still a very striking building that invigorated the whole area. Until 14 August there is a very impressive exhibition covering the long career of photographer Walker Evans (USA 1905 – 1967).  Well known for his portraits of ordinary people, he was a very versatile and wide ranging photographer. There was also an exhibition of the black and white photographs of Czech Joseph Koudelka who Michael Riley often said had particularly influenced him.

Hokusai’s The Great Wave

LONDON: HOKUSAI: Beyond the Great Wave at the British Museum (until 13 August) is a very comprehensive exhibition of the work of the Japanese artist Hokusai. Life presented him with many challenges over his long but always productive career.  The commission in 1830 and success of the Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji woodblock prints was a very welcome respite from financial hardship and family pressures for Hokusai.

The NGV in Melbourne is also showing Hokusai  (21 July – 15 October) which also includes The Great Wave, probably the most famous Japanese work of art. This exhibition also spans his entire life with 150 works including woodblock prints, rare paintings on silk, and hand painted manga.

In 1996 I saw a definitive Alberto Giacometti  1901 – 1966 exhibition in London at the Royal Academy of Arts. GIACOMETTI at the Tate Modern until 10 September 2017 is a smaller but intelligently curated and selected exhibition of sculptures and drawings. You can read The Sunday Times review of the exhibition here.

Battle of Britain by Grayson Perry

I was fortunate to just catch DAVID HOCKNEY: 60 YEARS at the Tate Britain, but I missed Grayson Perry’s The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! which is now on at the Serpentine until 10 September. Read his amusing and informative article about popularity in the art world in The Guardian here.

Henning Larsen’s Opera House, Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN: Copenhagen was another lovely city with beautiful old architecture and the addition of exciting new buildings. I was extremely lucky to see South African artist William Kentridge’s extensive multi media exhibition THICK TIME at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art north of Copenhagen before it closed. It may have been the best and most absorbing exhibition I saw in Europe, and he is one of the world’s greatest living artists.

The museum is situated in beautiful gardens looking out to sea across to Sweden with strategically placed sculpture by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore etc.  Lunch in the restaurant was delicious  – I found it surprisingly hard as a vegetarian in Europe.  The museum shop was full of an extensive range of superb world renowned Scandinavian design. Denmark has recently topped the Social Progress Index – a survey of the best places to live. I asked a friend “what underpins the Danish economy?”.  “Know-how”.

William Kentridge, THICK TIME

LIONS: With World Lion Day coming up on August 10th and Christian’s birthday on the 12th August I will blog about how enjoyable it was to recently catch up in London with friends very involved with Christian the lion.