Updated on June 5, 2019
Updated on June 5, 2019
By Robin Huffman, Safina Center Fellow
I’m a big believer in changing hearts and minds at the individual level. It’s a niche I find energizing and inspiring. There are others who relish, and are more effective at, large-scale mindset shifts. But I feel more like a ground soldier in the conservation fight, and when someone shares how my stories or images have affected them, I’m deeply touched. Besides, I also subscribe to the theories of “paying it forward” and “two degrees of separation,” both of which reverberate and thrive on personal attention.
Nevertheless, even I was surprised at an art initiative I led for a recent fundraiser I organized on behalf of Ape Action Africa, the Cameroon primate sanctuary that captivated my soul. Three years ago, Target was selling small cheap wooden gorilla cutouts. My colleague and I enlisted friends around the country to buy up all we could, anticipating they could somehow be used to help educate others about Ape Action Africa as well as primate conservation and welfare in general. This year, preparing to hold our biggest U.S. fundraiser yet for the sanctuary, it was time to put those gorillas to work.
I reached out to every designer/artist I could think of, asking them to decorate a gorilla for our event, with a title and artist’s statement. I even brazenly asked an accomplished artist I was meeting for the first time, at the Explorers Club. He agreed; in fact, not one person turned me down.
The results exceeded my expectations, and as a collection, it emanated unmistakable energy. Even the professional auctioneer was moved. I’m pretty sure many of the artists hadn’t contemplated gorillas extensively before, but you wouldn’t know it by what they created. They’d dug deep.
And the fundraiser guests responded. Every single gorilla was bought. One woman bought five, including two that hadn’t gotten other bids. She wanted all of them to have a home, and now she said she feels honored to oversee her own gorilla sanctuary.
Twenty-three gorillas raised $1,500. Not a large sum in the BINGO world (Big international NGO), but for a focused sanctuary like Ape Action Africa, caring for 356 monkeys and apes, that’ll cover the costs of emergency medical care for an incoming primate (wound treatment, medication, surgery) AND milk formula for an infant chimpanzee for ten months!
Here’s a sampling of artist’s statements:
“A Mother’s Love” by Meaghan Button and Julian Button
“Currently expecting my second child, the ever-importance of nature and animal conservation sits at the forefront of my daily thought now, more than ever. Protecting and conserving the incredible and mysterious world we inhabit is critical to our survival, and to the future successes and survival of all the majestic creatures, especially our distant relatives, the primates. It only seems appropriate that my 3 ½-year-old son collaborated with me in the process of creating our little mama gorilla; it will be a beautiful memory to share with him and my future daughter one day, and can only hope the world I share with them has an abundance of wildlife to support their growing imaginations.”
“Golden Forest” by Alba Páramo
“With this piece I portray the importance of gorillas and the forests where they live. Using the color gold to draw the forest, I raise the value of the gorilla’s habitat to the same value human beings give to actual gold and like this, raise awareness on protecting these forests so gorillas can live safely and thrive.”
“Sanctum” by Courtnay Tassillo
“’Sanctum,’ a noun, ‘a private place from which most people are excluded.’ This one word teaches us as humans, how much damage we are causing to not only the gorillas themselves, but the environment they thrive in. This piece represents ultimately the end goal, to restore quality of life in these animals, as well as the conservation of their spaces, bringing them further away from the brink of extinction.”
“Gorilla Dreams” by Carolina Botero
“My gorilla is dreaming of colorful flowers and beautiful sunsets. That’s what I would like their dreams to be instead of fighting for survival from the many perils that they suffer. My gorilla dreams in the colors of hope.”
Thus begins a tradition. I, too, dream in the colors of hope.