- Homage to Ahmed
- (scroll down for description)
- lithograph, 29 1/2 x 41 1/2, 1990
Ahmed was the last of the great large tuskers. He lived in Kenya and was protected as a symbol of Kenyan wildlife by special presidential decree. Ahmed was guarded by two armed rangers 24 hours a day, from 1970 until he died in 1974. Ahmed was not gigantic, but it wasn't necessarily the largest or the oldest of the male elephants that had the largest tusks -- the great tuskers simply had it in their genes.
Ahmed is walking -- nearly striding -- looking mature and handsome, with his curved tusks gleaming. My intention was not to be threatening; Ahmed is not charging. His tusks are down, and they are very, very big. As an artist, I found the most interesting aspect of the image to be the treatment of the wrinkles at the centre of his face, between his eyes and below his forehead between his tusks.
"Homage to Ahmed" was created to raise funds to help combat ivory poaching. This is more a picture about ivory than it is about an elephant. It is part of the sad commentary on man's interference with the world that these great large tuskers were selectively hunted for centuries, both by collectors and trophy shooters. As the largest tusks were preferred, such hunting hastened the elimination of large tusk genes from the breeding pool. This was the end of an historic phenomenon that has occurred since elephants have been around -- millions of years. No more great tuskers will be produced on Earth.
I wanted this picture to be large and impressive and confrontational because it is about that kind of issue -- the ivory trade. In 1980, there were 70,000 elephants in Kenya. Now there are fewer than 16,000.
The demand for ivory on the international market had a resurgence in 1970, when the price of ivory increased. By the late 1970's, thousands of elephants have been slaughtered for trinkets - jewellery, piano keys, billiard balls - decorative items that sit on the shelf or the mantel and collect dust. It doesn't seem to me to be a cause worthy of the destruction of such a beautiful animal. We have to hope that people will simply stop buying ivory, especially in Far East countries where the ivory trade is the heaviest.