In the Wild: Voices on the WWF Tiger Trail

In the Wild: Voices on the WWF Tiger Trail

Chris Westbrook, Creative Director and Curator of the 2022 Tiger Trail

T his year in celebration of the Year of the Tiger, WWF presents life-sized tiger sculptures designed by fine artists around the world to bring attention to the rapid decline in tiger populations across Southeast Asia. The goal of the project is to raise awareness of biodiversity in the region by using the tiger as a key indicator, whilst showcasing the works of local and international artists. Earlier in March, Sotheby's spoke to Chris Westbrook, creative director and curator of the 2022 Tiger Trail, to discuss how he and WWF were able to unite artists from around the world in the shared mission of wildlife conservation.

Tell us about your work on the Tiger Trail. How did you become involved with the mission of wildlife conservation?

I have been a curator for nearly twenty years, and I have worked in the fine arts industry globally. In 2002, I started to bring the arts together with charities and good causes. We have done various public exhibitions, trails, and auctions to benefit various causes such as preserving lions, rhinos, and now tigers. To raise funds and awareness, art is a good vehicle for bringing causes and complex ideas to the public's attention, but in a playful and engaging way.

Zhang Huan, Poppy Tiger . estimate: 800,000-2,000,000 hkd

In the exhibition, there are more than 40 artists participating from all over the world. How did you bring this group together?

When WWF first spoke to me about bringing awareness to the tiger cause, we both wanted a global trail in terms of the scope of artists. We've gone far and wide: choosing people who would be able to take the blank canvas of the tiger and create something that would be not only engaging, but also informative. We have 50 artworks by artists from fourteen different countries. Also vitally important was that we had as many artists from the thirteen tiger-range countries as possible.

Many of the fine artists have taken on the tiger challenge, really considering the work very much as though they were in their studio. I would just like to emphasize that the works that have been created are fine artworks, and not merely decorative. Each one is profound, with a narrative expresses a thought or an idea – of what it might mean to us all if we did not have tigers in our world.

ian davenport, chromatic tiger . estimate: 90,000-350,000 hkd

There are a mix of tiger sculptures on the the trail itself and unique artworks in the exhibition. What was the process for deciding on the type of work?

We gave every artist the option, because we wanted them to participate in a way that they feel comfortable. There are some artists whose work simply couldn't translate to a white tiger sculpture. For example, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta, in their first time collaborating, wanted to bring both their style of works together in one item; they created a unique piece, Puli, which is absolutely stunning.

We had such a huge response in the artist community that we actually had to pull back, and not to accept too many pieces. On the exhibition side, we have a show at the Fullerton gallery as well as a satellite show in another gallery in Singapore. We have something like twenty or 30 unique works, along with the 33 tiger sculptures that are dotted around Singapore.

Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta, puli . estimate: 750,000-2,000,000 hkd

On the trail, does the placement of the sculptures have special significance?

Absolutely. I tried to place these artworks so that they engage the public in a landmark spot. Local residents can get out and see the tigers as they do things that are local to them in the city. Visitors can also follow the trail, and when they take their selfies, for example, they've got the iconic backdrop behind them. In terms of social reach, when visitors post and repost the photos, we reach a much wider audience. The message gets out to far more people by placing them in iconic landmarks.

What are some of the major themes of the life-sized tiger art sculptures?

Every artist is bringing their own unique vision. What's common to all of them is the celebration of the majesty and beauty of tigers, as well as their environmental importance. If we save one tiger, we also save tens of thousands of hectares of biodiversity, carbon capturing landscapes. By losing the tiger, we also lose water resources, local communities lose the ability to plant crops properly, and deforestation takes over. Habitats are ravaged by consumerism. Saving thousands of acres of carbon capture of biodiversity, that's vitally important on not only an economic level, but also a social level. It really has a knock-on effect, reaching far wider than just the tiger.

Certainly themes of salvation come through in the works, as artists celebrate the tigers' complete majesty and also their beauty. They are unbelievably beautiful animals. A lot of the artists focused on the stripes, because those are their thumbprints; they’re unique. The works marvel at the importance of the tiger across the board in terms of biodiversity, but also as an icon. Tigers are on the coat of arms for Singapore, as they are on many flags and products around the world. It's a very, very powerful living symbol.

left: ashley yeo, tiger with flowers . estimate: 32,000-90,000hkd
top right: Temenggong Artists-in-Residence x Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Tribal Gold . estimate: 22,000-90,000 hkd
bottom right: United World College of Southeast Asia (UWCSEA), Priceless . estimate: 22,000-90,000hkd

What are the ways the public can get involved so that we will be able to see tigers in the wild for many generations?

The beauty of this particular trail is that 100% of the funds that are raised once the artworks are auctioned off at the end of the event will go to TX2, which is a campaign to double the number of wild tigers. By 2022, they have very close to the goal; the numbers have increased, but we still need a final push for wild tigers to become self sufficient in terms of their sustainability. People may get involved not only by doing the trail, but also by looking at the artwork online or maybe making a bid if they're interested. The funds will 100% go to the preservation and doubling of the tiger numbers. Once the trail finishes, there will always be content at WWF, particularly in Singapore as a hub for this particular project where more information will be gathered.

Highlight: Artists’ Voices From the Tiger Trail

Each unique artwork represents a unique perspective on how climate change, poaching, and deforestation are affecting tigers in the wild. Click ahead to read what the tiger means to these select artists, expressed in their own words and through their art.

Modern Art | Asia

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