i am not your property: the bizarre, grisly, and macabre underworld of the wildlife trade

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prop·er·ty /ˈpräpərdē/noun

  1. a thing or things belonging to someone; possessions collectively.

  2. an attribute, quality, or characteristic of something.

This project explores the perception of wildlife as property. Through the lens of wildlife products confiscated by the US officials, this project navigates the complex perceptions of wildlife as property. This project strives to ask – using images - the delicate questions that we must now face in the Anthropocene: is the sole function of our natural world to satisfy the needs of humans? Can the natural world be owned?

 For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have commodified, transformed, mutilated, destroyed, preserved, harvested, utilized, and designed the natural world to fit our needs. In the late 1800’s, the advancement of powerful colonial empires with imperial ideologies led to the removal of many indigenous populations from their lands in order for the imperial elite to hunt, trap, and “conquer” the natural world. Fueled by power and greed, the natural world has been used to feed an insatiable thirst for status and wealth. U.S. presidents hunted big game across Africa. Belgian princes hunted gorillas in the Congo. British elites hunted tigers in India, elephants in Kenya, and rhinos in South Africa. It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations enacted the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an environmental treaty that was designed to conserve and protect plant and wildlife species from exploitative international trade. By that time, habitat loss, poaching, and human population growth was responsible for what arguably is the 6th great extinction. Since 1970, the planet has lost nearly 60% of all wild animals and nearly 26,000 animals are facing extinction. Only this time, humans are responsible.

Today, wildlife is often viewed as a commodity and as property. The images in this project aim to convey the juxtaposition of beauty and repulsion by showcasing items crafted from once-living beings. This project examines species that once roamed the plains of the Serengeti, the forests of Sumatra, and the grasslands of the Savannah that now sit lifeless on a shelf gathering dust. Rhinos feet turned into ice buckets. Elephants turned into cowboy boots. Leopards turned into foot stools. From odd trinkets, to musical instruments, from purses to jewelry, we gain a glimpse into the perspective of wildlife as property. Many of these species are endangered or on the brink of extinction, and unless we act fast, we will lose them forever. How do we want the next generations to learn about these creatures? As lifeless mementos, prisoners in their own eternal fixated pose? Or in the natural world?

[Only] when the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted...will you realize, too late, that you can’t eat money.
— Alanis Obomsawin