A life-size giraffe constructed from wire snares, created in part by senior Studio Art major Richard Tanner, was unveiled on April 20 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum as part of the “Snares to Wares Spring Soirée.”
For the past three months, Tanner has collaborated with two Ugandan artists, Mutalib Ngomojik and Sophia Jingo, in creating the 14-foot tall giraffe, an effort that stems from the Snares to Wares initiative at Michigan State University, which was created by Robert Montgomery, Assistant Professor in MSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Director of the RECaP Laboratory, and Tutilo Mudumba, doctoral student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and part of the RECaP Lab.
Snares to Wares is a transformative conservation effort aimed at creating opportunities for residents of the village of Pakwach, Uganda, where young men often turn to the illegal snaring of bushmeat for basic survival. The Snares to Wares project works to remove wire snares from the nearby national park, thus protecting wildlife and generating employment and revenue for local at-risk residents who repurpose the snares to create sculptures of animals threatened by this illegal hunting.
This semester, MSU is offering a Snares to Wares course to explore the issues concerning the conservation of wildlife and preservation of human well-being in East Africa.
Having heard of the Snares to Wares initiative, the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering commissioned the life-size giraffe sculpture for the atrium of their new building on MSU’s campus.
Looking for a collaborator to assist in the creation of the giraffe, the Snares to Wares team consulted with Laura Cloud, Associate Professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, who recommended Tanner, her student.
Cloud said she thought Tanner would be perfect for the project because of his experience in sculpture and welding. He immediately accepted the challenge, and with Cloud’s guidance, developed a plan for the armature, or the metal framework for the giraffe. He also worked with Michael McCune, Ceramics and 3D Technician, on problem-solving in building the armature. Tanner then worked with Ngomojik and Jingo, who have led many of the Snares to Wares art projects, to complete the sculpture.
“It really is Mutalib and Sophia’s artwork. They built the head and are wrapping the snare around the frame that I built,” Tanner said. “They have never had any experience building anything to this grand size.”
Ngomojik and Jingo have spent the last few months at MSU running hands-on art events and building the giraffe.
Being informed and being able to see something that is life-size and has that Ugandan artistic feel, there is something so magical about this.
“We all work really closely, but sometimes it can be difficult because there is a bit of a language barrier,” Tanner said. “But, as soon as we tap into our common artist flow, then it is easy to understand one another; I rely on that.”
The wire snares that the giraffe is wrapped and detailed with are from Pakwach, Uganda. Not only does the sculpture bring awareness to the Snares to Wares initiative, but to issues of extinction and endangerment of native animals in East Africa. The sculpture is modeled after a Rothschild giraffe, an endangered subspecies of giraffes that are native to Uganda. There are only about 1,500 Rothschild giraffes left in the wild.
“We get so caught up in our own little worlds that we don’t realize what is going on outside of that. These are issues that I didn’t even know were so serious,” Tanner said. “Just being informed and being able to see something that is life-size and has that Ugandan artistic feel, there is something so magical about this. The biggest thing that the giraffe will do is bring awareness to these issues and to the initiative.”
The base for the giraffe was made by the MSU Shadows Collection from repurposed trees. It includes 10 trees that have fallen at MSU for various reasons and weighs approximately 1,000 pounds.
Tanner worked in construction before coming to MSU, where he now has gained the technical skill to work in both wood and metal.
“I came back [to college] to reinvent myself and to finish what I started,” he said. “I left art for a few years to work as a carpenter and now I’m coming back to it. What I was missing with construction was that creative flow. I was restricted to doing what other people wanted me to do, which is okay, but I love the artistic freedom. I enjoy having the ability to create, and now I have the knowledge to do that.”
Tanner is now using both his technical and artistic skills to help with this transformative initiative and received internship credit for his time spent building the giraffe. He also may be traveling to Pakwach, Uganda, this summer to visit the 250 local artists who are employed by the Snares to Wares initiative.
Where to See the Giraffe
After its unveiling, the giraffe will be on display in the atrium of the new building housing the MSU Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering, located at 775 Woodlot Dr., East Lansing, MI 48824.
Students in the Snares to Wares course currently are working to get the giraffe displayed at, Art Prize, an international art competition and festival held annually in early fall in Grand Rapids, Michigan.