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When Elephants Paint: The Quest of Two Russian Artists to Save the Elephants of Thailand Paperback – November 7, 2000
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Once revered as semidivine beings and collaborators in the hard work of transporting goods and materials, Thailand's elephants have fallen on hard times. With the destruction of their forested habitats, a consequent nationwide ban on hardwood logging, and the decline of traditional agriculture in the rapidly urbanizing country, their numbers have declined from tens of thousands just a decade ago to only a few thousand today. Many of the surviving elephants have been put to work in traveling circuses or used for black-market labor, subject to overwork and all manner of abuse.
Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Russian expatriates who have been working together for more than 30 years, have a knack, writes art curator Mia Fineman, for "transforming the solemn rituals of high art into high comedy." It was with the utmost seriousness, however, that the two, on reading of the elephants' plight, traveled to Thailand and established the Thai Elephant Art School, through whose offices elephants create pop-art masterpieces with palette, brush, and trunk. (Elephants, it seems, have a well-known gift for the visual arts and, in the Thai case, adore the work of Vasily Kandinsky.) Sold to collectors on the world market, pachyderm-painted pieces generated $75,000 at a single early auction, the proceeds of which were used to establish and maintain sanctuaries throughout Thailand.
Illustrated with elephantine artwork and more than 100 photographs documenting Komar and Melamid's project, this book makes a wonderfully offbeat gift, and one of a very good cause. --Gregory McNamee
"Komar and Melamid's sensibility is funny, prickly, complex, humane, dense with implications, and a baited trap for ideologues and hypocrites." -- --Luc Sante, New York Times Book Review
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