Extinct: Artistic Impressions of Our Lost Wildlife
Science and art collide to prove that all species have equal intrinsic value. Extinct: Artistic Impressions of Our Lost Wildlife by ecologist and historian Benjamin Gray presents a succinct yet in-depth catalogue of scientific and historical facts, binomial animal names as well as poetry and an artist letter, mourning the loss of Australia’s unique native animals and, in doing so, also celebrates their existence, diversity and significance.
Extinct further examines extinction through the medium of images; richly illustrated, original artworks from painting, print and drawing to Polaroid, from over 40 contemporary established and emerging Australian artists: Sue Anderson, Brook Garru Andrew, Andrew Baines, Elizabeth Banfield, Sally Bourke, Jacob Boylan, Nadine Christensen, Simon Collins, Lottie Consalvo, Henry Curchod, Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa), Sarah Faulkner, Dianne Fogwell, David Frazer, Martin George, Bruce Goold, Eliza Gosse, Simone Griffin, Johanna Hildebrandt, Miles Howard-Wilks, Nick Howson, Brendan Huntley, Ben Jones, Alex Latham, Rosemary Lee, Amanda Marburg, Chris Mason, Terry Matassoni, Rick Matear, Eden Menta, Tom O’Hern, Bernard Ollis, Emma Phillips, Nick Pont, Geoffrey Ricardo, Sally Robinson, Anthony Romagnano, Gwen Scott, Marina Strocchi, Jenny Watson and Allie Webb; who have reimagined lost wildlife, based only on
what we know from remaining accounts provided by the European ‘naturalists’. Regardless, their artworks alone will ignite discourse and inspire conservation action.
In addition, accompanied stories of each animal inform us of an anthropogenically-driven loss, with the majority occurring recently, after European colonisation; whether targeted for hunting, caged to serve our curiosities, expelled by urban development, or impacted by climate change.
‘While this book presents connections – between the artists and the animals, between history and its authors, between modernity and its origins – it laments the omission of other important connections,’ stresses Gray. ‘Putting together the jigsaw puzzle of history relies on the availability of pieces.’ The ancestral stories and cultures of First Nations people are deeply intertwined with these now-extinct species, as with its surviving native fauna; kangaroos and wallabies, possums and bandicoots, birds, flying foxes and emus, frogs and even snails and worms, to name a few. However, the colonial gaze of many European naturalists often tainted their recollections, and this disconnect ignored the true beauty and documentation of these species – not to mention their accounts are slightly less than 200 years old in an animal kingdom spanning thousands.
‘The truth is that science can only play one part in our approach to conservation,’ explains Gray. ‘If conservation is to be successful going forward, the importance of animals to us emotionally, needs to also become a focus. Art has a broad appeal, which science sometimes lacks. People are drawn to art, and the artists in the book represent some of the most popular visual artists in the country. The more people care, and the more invested people are in our native wildlife, the more successful all conservation efforts will be.’