Extinct Icons: Saint Sultan

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The clocks have just gone back (forward?) so although it isn’t, I’m going to say Happy New Year, as my first post of 2017. Hello followers, new and old.

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Probably just after I had completed my Wildcat piece last year, certainly my most popular piece going by Instagram, I was already full of an idea for this year’s project. Partly because of my introduction to ONCA gallery in Brighton, their work and interest in my Ritual Burial’s pieces, spurred me on to make more conservationist themed work. You may have read my blog post for them, for Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2016, and in writing that piece, certainly it made me look at the meaning of last year’s work in a slightly different way. I researched the ‘status’ of each native British species featured in that project, to discover all but two were either extinct in this country, or threatened.

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Aesthetically, and technically, I was also ready for something new. The materials I use have often inspired my work, and I was really keen to use more embellishment rather than focus so much on Stumpwork, which was thoroughly explored last year. Gold and metal thread work, beads, sequins, and a general mixture of all these was something I really wanted to play with.

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The idea for my 2017 project came to me as it usually does fully formed in my mind, at least visually. The photographs by Paul Koudounaris of martyrs and saints in Catholic churches, adorned and decorated with gold and jewels were a big inspiration, and I have always liked a skull or two in my work. But the idea of this: of martyrs, persecuted in their lifetime for their beliefs or actions, now revered and regaled in death, with more symbolic value than literal (even if it’s just a toe bone that’s left) made me think how we treat animals, specifically extinct ones.

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When you google ‘extinct species’ you get loads of ‘top ten’ style lists, with mini-paragraph length eulogies and sad face emojis. There are thousands and thousands of species mankind have eliminated from the face of the planet, but the same ‘heroes’ come up again and again: Thylacine, Barbary Lion, and maybe the most famous of all, the Dodo. These are the poster children of the extinct hall of fame. Species that evolved over millennia, wiped out in the briefest expression of humanity’s ignorance.

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So, like those martyrs, persecuted in their lifetimes, I am interested in completing that cycle, and illuminating them as saints. These ‘Extinct Icons’ are the figureheads of the epidemic of mass extinction in our modern age.

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The first in this series: Saint Sultan.

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The Barbary lion was considered one of the biggest lion subspecies. They had dark, long-haired manes that extended over the shoulder and down to the belly. It is said that they developed the colours and size of their manes due to ambient temperatures, their nutrition, and their level of testosterone.
The last known wild Barbary lion was shot in the Moroccan part of the Atlas Mountains in 1942. These lions used to be offered to royal families of Morocco and Ethiopia and were known as the “royal” lions. It is said that some of these “royal” lions survived until the late 1960’s, until a respiratory disease just about wiped them all out.

Sultan was the name of a Barbary lion kept at London zoo, in 1896.

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