Jumbo welcome: 101 elephant sculptures to greet Mumbai, promote conservation
On Sunday, 101 elephants will gather at the Gateway of India. They’re no ordinary animals – one is made entirely of bronze, some are covered in gold and the rest are fiberglass models decorated with butterfly motifs, folk art, fold lettering, or flowers inspired by children’s books.
Starting March 3, the elephants will be herded to public spots across Mumbai. Unlike most art, you can touch them, hug them, and donate to protecting real elephants across Asia.
The sculptures are part of the India edition of Elephant Parade, an 11-year-old initiative. Each work is designed and painted by a different artist, and will eventually be auctioned to raise money to build 101 elephant corridors (secure passages for the animals to pass) across India.
For art lovers, it’s a treat. The gentle grey animal is an interesting canvas. Art consultant Farah Siddiqui has roped in big and lesser-known names in art, design and fashion. Fashion designer Masaba Gupta, artist LN Tallur, Bhil artist Lado Bai and actor Amitabh Bachchan are among the creators.
Designer-duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla’s elephant is covered in mirrors. “Their placement reveals our multifaceted selves, like the goddess Kali,” says Sandeep Khosla. Each sculpture also has a name – this one is christened Kali-doscope.
“Everyone has an elephant story, of feeding them, or of them walking on the road,” says Ruth Ganesh, trustee of Elephant Family, the UK non-profit hosting this edition. As the elephants tour Mumbai, you can bid on any one of the 101 elephants on Paddle.com. Their prices start from Rs 3-5 lakh, and the bidding will be open from March 3-22. “We hope that by leaving the artwork for the public to play with, they will connect to the cause of elephant protection.”
Elephant Parade has been held 24 times in locations as varied as Netherlands, Hong Kong and London, with anything from 50 to 250 sculptures created by such artists as Katy Perry and Bryan Adams. It’s one of the most public initiatives towards protecting Asian elephants. According to the 2017 Elephant Census, only 50,000 Asian elephants remain. “Over 27,000 of them are in India,” Ganesh says.
The 101 corridors will require 20 million pounds (Rs 181 crore) by 2025 and the auction money will go to nonprofits including the Wildlife Trust of India, the Nature Conservation Foundation, the Wildlife Protection Society of India and the Wildlife Society of Odisha. Elephant Parade’s founder Mike Spits says that initiatives like this, and social media, have helped get the message across. “People are fortunately starting to slowly realise that we only have one planet and very few elephants left,” he says.
“This step in conservation goes beyond borders and politics,” says Parade ambassador Poonam Mahajan.