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Artworks: Encountering the Elephant Parade Singapore

In the midst of the deepening, globalized, economic crisis of 2011, Singapore shoppers were out in force in November and December 2011. On 10 November 2011, a media conference at The Fullerton Bay Hotel launched the Elephant Parade Singapore, with speakers from each of the participating partners.1 The Elephant Parade co-founder Mike Spits and other speakers drew attention to the plight of the Asian elephants, the inception and mission of the Elephant Parade and Singapore’s dedication, as a global city, to global concerns of ecology and environment. With a range of original and colourful designs, baby elephants were stationed in Singapore’s Orchard Road, Marina Bay, VivoCity,2 museums, Botanic Gardens and Singapore Zoo. This delightful introduction into city spaces brought together aesthetic, business and ecological interests to become the world’s largest, open-air, art exhibition dedicated to the preservation of the Asian elephant. A significant percentage of proceeds from a grand auction of the painted elephants at Sotheby’s Auction House in January 2012,3 plus elephant merchandise, contributed to the Asian Elephant Foundation. Within three years since its inception, the Elephant Parade auctions had raised over seven million euros to benefit the cause of protecting the Asian elephant.

Here in Singapore, the artwork designs reflect the multi-cultural approaches of the 160 artists with some using traditional, applied arts techniques, and others a more contemporary approach. E Happy by Ratchakirt Wichalyo with its brightly-painted red and purple decorations sat well amongst ornamental plants and city pavements, reminding younger consumers and passers-by of the appeal of twenty-first-century popular culture and easy attachment to endearing artefacts. Lotus Sutra by Nandita Chaudhuri (Figure 1) carries on its back a utopian world of harmony, peace and beauty.

Figure 1: Nandita Chaudhuri, Lotus Sutra, adopted by ABN AMRO Banking. The Elephant Parade, Singapore 2011, merchandise. Image: Nicholas Gresson.

A stately baby elephant, Kirimek, from the Jim Thompson Design Studio with artist, Mongkol Ueareeporn (Figure 2), is decorated with the ancient Thai technique of Lai Rod Nam’ applying gold leaf over black lacquer, and deriving designs from the Ramakian story in which Rama the hero vanquishes evil powers (Elephant Parade Singapore 2011: 30-32). Others attracted attention including Dipo Andy’s Ai Buin, whose name derives from the artist’s native language, Sumbawa, ai meaning water, and buin a bathing place on the riverbanks'; Worth to be Dutch by Hollandsche Waaren, displaying the characteristic blue and white Dutch colours, symbols and heritage patterns to reference a continuing need for cultural preservation; and Nong Mai (new kid) by Attasit Aniwatchon (Figure 3), with its pastiche of vegetation and flowers bringing attention to the tropical setting and ecological purpose of the Parade.

Figure 2: Jim Thompson Design Studio with artist Mongkol Ueareeporn, Kirimek, adopted by ABN AMRO Banking. The Elephant Parade, Singapore 2011. Image: elephantparade.com/elephants/Singapore-2011. Accessed 12 December 2012.

Figure 3: Attasit Aniwatchon, NongMai, adopted by ABN AMRO Banking. The Elephant Parade, Singapore 2011. Image: Elizabeth Grierson.

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