People look at Masai Mara by Liang Mingyu at the Tate Exchange gallery in London on the weekend. (Photo by Ouyang Xueyan/China Daily)
A life-size elephant crafted by a Chinese designer out of recycled denim went on display at London's Tate Exchange this weekend, illustrating the hardships of the natural world and calling for greater protection of the environment and animals within it.
Inspired by her trip to Africa, fashion designer Liang Mingyu, whose work featured in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, made the elephant artwork entitled Masai Mara. She said it expresses her feelings about the animal and that she hopes it will raise awareness of wildlife conservation.
"In 2015, I visited the Masai Mara wildlife refuge in Africa. One day, I sat in my friend's car and saw a group of elephants 20 meters away," she recalled.
"They saw us at the same time and suddenly stopped, waiting for us to pass the road. It felt like people waiting for the traffic lights in a city. My friend Xingba waved his arm to 'tell' them go first. I was surprised that elephants can totally understand him. And then I saw the scene that I won't forget my whole life," she said.
"A group of elephants ran across the road. Baby elephants chased their moms intensely, with noses swing in the air. They looked very happy and united."
The intelligence of the elephants left a deep impression on the artist, and thinking about the threat posed to their natural habitat by poaching and the illegal trade in ivory, Liang took on the responsibility of observing and saving their living environment.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, which is also known as WWF, despite a ban on the international trade in ivory, African elephants are still being poached in large numbers. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed for their tusks every year, with the ivory often carved into ornaments and jewelry.
With her long-held concern for environmental conservation, as well as familiarity with different fabrics, Liang decided to recycle second-hand denims from friends and students and to utilize factories' excess stocks as the main material to make the artwork and let the elephants' voices be heard.
"I told my friends about this. It is beyond my expectation that they warmly responded to my suggestion and sent me their second-hand denims very quickly. Some factories even donated their excess stocks to me. Lots of denims still have new labels," said Liang. "This reminds me that there is incredible pollution behind the fashion industry, where most people only see the beauty and prosperity of it."
She spent more than six months meticulously sewing the elephant and baby elephants, each seam and crease telling the hardships of elephants and trying to draw attention to the alarming environmental pollution caused by the fabric manufacturing process and fashion consumers.
The stitching took tens of thousands of needles, and plenty of blood and finger injuries.
"When I think the elephant's teeth are pulled out, my fingers don't feel hurt at all," she said.
Last year, Masai Mara was displayed for the first time at the fourth International Fashion and Lifestyle Expo in the Beijing Exhibition Center.
This time it was exhibited as one of the artworks in Itinerant Objects, a Winchester School of Art project at the Tate Modern gallery, partly inspired by China's ancient Silk Road, which helped with the cultural exchange of objects and stories, in a similar fashion to what is being done today through the modern Belt and Road Initiative.