Renowned artist confronts destruction of African wildlife in latest art show

Jun 9, 2023, 11:05 PM

Artist and photographer Roger Ballen watches as visitors enter the "Shack" installation during an e...

Artist and photographer Roger Ballen watches as visitors enter the "Shack" installation during an exhibition tour at Inside Out Centre for the Arts in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, June 3, 2023. From the killing of elephants in the 18th century that began the ivory trade to the decimation of the rhino population from animal hunting, Ballen argues through his provocative art installations and multimedia artworks that humans remain at the forefront of the destruction of African wildlife. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

(AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Often depicted as an integral feature of the continent, African wildlife, from iconic big beasts to its vast array of species, continues to attract millions of foreign travelers every year.

But a new art exhibition in the heart of Johannesburg is questioning the relationship between humans and animals on the continent, which spans centuries and is often marked by the destruction and exploitation of African wildlife for commercial gain and recreational purposes.

From the killing of elephants in the 18th century to feed the ivory trade to decimating the rhino population through hunting, artist and photographer Roger Ballen argues — through provocative installations and multimedia works — that humans have been at the forefront of destroying African wildlife for around 200 years.

The exhibition, which opened in March this year, is titled ‘End of The Game.’ It explores how depictions of African wildlife, including in Hollywood films, were used to instill stereotypes about the continent that led to the ruin of its environment.

“Most people in the West had never been to Africa, so all they knew was what they saw in the movie posters and the films which portrayed Africa as a dark continent with savages and wild animals,” said Ballen.

Although hunting was practiced on the continent before the arrival of European colonists, the practice took on a different form, with the introduction of firearms, the commercial trade of materials like ivory and animal skins and the beginning of ‘trophy hunting’ of big game for sport.

The continent’s wildlife continues to face threats today, as land is cleared for development or forests are cut down for fuel, squeezing natural habitats. Human-made suffering long periods of drought and other erratic weather including cyclones, heavy rainfall and dust storms.

Ballen used artefacts collected from metal scrap yards, hunting farms, pawn shops and roadsides on his local and international travels over a career of more than four decades to put together a collection of photographs, artworks and creative installations.

“It is about putting it together in an imaginative and creative way that still has an impact and challenges the viewer in all sorts of ways,” said Ballen.

The 73-year-old American-born photographer has lived and worked in Africa for more than 40 years and has developed a reputation for dark and abstract artworks, a consistency he appears to have kept with this most recent body of work.

One of the centerpieces of the exhibition is the documentary section which includes objects, texts, photographs and books documenting early years of hunting expeditions in Africa.

“That gives people sort of the objectification of the period that we are dealing with and when the destruction of game started in Africa,” he said. “This is for the audience to discover and to come to terms with.”

Another display of early versions of weapons and ammunition used to kill bigger animals leads into the “Hunter’s Room” — a staged installation depicting archival photographs and items in a staged safari setting.

A hunter figure made from wax is the main character in the room, surrounded by his hunting memorabilia and collectibles.

Some of the photographs include archived pictures of former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt’s much publicized hunting expeditions in Kenya and Winston Churchill’s east African safari, both in the early 1900s.

A short film shown inside a curated cinema compiles clips from old Western movies depicting African wildlife, including video shot by European tourists who came to the continent for trophy hunting. Hunters can be seen on films towering victoriously over their trophies, mostly dead giraffes, elephants and rhino.

Others depict Indigenous Africans having conquered elephants, lions and leopards.

Trophy hunting is still legal in many countries across the continent, although it’s typically regulated to ensure population numbers of animals can be sustained.

The exhibition continues to draw crowds to the Inside Out Centre for the Arts in Johannesburg since it opened, and it will remain on display indefinitely, according to Ballen.

A typical Saturday morning at the gallery is a hive of activity.

“I don’t want to say it is scary, but it is very interesting,” said visitor Shelley Drynan. “It is interesting to see how people feel about animals and how they interact with animals, how most people actually are hypocrites when it comes to their dealings with animals.”

Sarah Wilding, another visitor who said she was familiar with Ballen’s earlier works, said her emotions were stirred by the exhibition’s depiction of African wildlife and its destruction over many years.

“To just be here and feel the melancholy and the mystery,” Wilding said, “is truly a fantastic experience.”


Associated Press

Niger’s junta accuses United Nations chief of blocking its participation at General Assembly

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — The military government that seized power in Niger has accused United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of “obstructing” the West African nation’s full participation at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders in order to appease France, Niger’s former colonizer, and its allies. The decision to not allow the junta’s envoy to […]

10 hours ago

In this image taken from video, Niko, a pet squirrel, stands on the shoulder of Yeison in their ten...

Associated Press

A Venezuelan man and his pet squirrel made it to the US border. Now he’s preparing to say goodbye

MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) — During the weeks it took Yeison and Niko to migrate from Venezuela toward the U.S., they navigated dangerous jungles and over a dead body. The two are so inseparable that Yeison sold his phone so both had enough bus money to continue their journey. Now as Yeison prepares to finally enter […]

16 hours ago

Associated Press

Bulgaria to purchase US Stryker combat vehicles and related equipment

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgaria’s government has approved the purchase of U.S.-made Stryker combat vehicles to modernize the country’s land forces and bring them in line with NATO standards. The decision, announced Friday by the government’s press office, followed the approval by the U.S. State Department of the sale of 183 Stryker vehicles and related […]

1 day ago

Associated Press

South Africa to host US trade forum as diplomatic tensions subside

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa will host a meeting in November of nations participating in the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act despite earlier calls to exclude the country from the forum due to its ties to Russia and the docking of a sanctioned Russian vessel near Cape Town last year. AGOA is U.S. legislation […]

3 days ago

Lebanese Army investigators inspect bullet holes and collect forensic evidence next to the entrance...

Associated Press

Lebanon begins investigating shooting outside US Embassy that caused no injuries

AUKAR, Lebanon (AP) — Lebanonese security agencies have launched an investigation into a late-night shooting outside the U.S. Embassy that caused no injuries, officials said Thursday. No one claimed responsibility for the small arms fire Wednesday night near the entrance to the heavily fortified compound in Beirut’s northeastern suburb of Awkar. It was not immediately […]

3 days ago

Ukrainian servicemen walk through a charred forest at the frontline a few kilometers from Andriivka...

Associated Press

Inside a Ukrainian brigade’s battle ‘through hell’ to reclaim a village on the way to Bakhmut

ANDRIIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian bullet struck the sergeant just above the left ear. The leader of the Ukrainian platoon was down. Headquarters radioed a battlefield promotion to the private who had called him “brother” — a man known as Courier. Courier knew the platoon’s orders were to move forward through the forest, on […]

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Renowned artist confronts destruction of African wildlife in latest art show