On Thursday morning I posted Lucinda Michele’s photos from Banksy’s Barely Legal and it’s been a shitstorm ever since. The comment thread on that post, as well as on the follow up post with the location have been filled with people asking questions about the elephant. Some people are amused by it, some people are outraged. Some people are even so outranged that they are using different names and posting follow up comments agreeing with themselves. Needless to say it’s been a hot topic over the last 48 hours, and, at least from my vantage point, it’s been amusing to see people instantly assume the worst.
The LA Times joined the conversation today with a piece called “Painted Pachyderm Draws Outcry.” They actually talked to Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, the agency that issued the permits for Tai the elephant. More thoughts on this, his quotes and my follow up after the jump.
From the Times piece:
“Activists believe that elephants, which roam miles in the wild, don’t begin to get their physical needs met in the confines of a zoo – let alone a downtown warehouse.”
I think this is an important part of this conversation, and something that is getting blurred and that is the discussion if wild animals, such as elephants, should be in captivity for any purpose. Be that zoos, commercials, movies, or an art show. The people who don’t think they should, are misdirecting their attention to Banksy on this one. Banksy didn’t create the laws or policies in place regarding these animals, but he’s taken every precaution to follow the ones that are in place. I wonder if the people who are posting comments about how offended they are have the same reaction when they see an elephant in a commerical or a movie? They might. But then again they might not. Regardless, he’s following the same precautions and providing Tai with the same care required in those other situations.
The Sunday Herald Sun has a comment from Kari Johnson, Tai’s caretaker:
Johnson said Tai lives on a private southern California elephant ranch and has appeared in several commercials. “There is nothing in the world I would ever do to harm an elephant. The paint is non-toxic and washable and does not hurt a bit,” Ms Johnson said.
Ms. Johnson is also quoted in the Times piece saying that Tai has been in many, many movies and is very used to make up. So, point being, if you are pissed off about an elephant being in captivity, Banksy isn’t the person you should be flipping out about. Which brings us back to the Los Angeles Animal Services. From the Times:
“…the artist’s employment of an elephant in a downtown warehouse had activists e-mailing one another and prompted a rebuke from a city official. ‘I think it sends a very wrong message that abusing animals is not only OK, it’s an art form,’ said Ed Boks, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services. ‘We find it no longer acceptable to dye baby chicks at Easter, but it’s OK to dye an elephant.’ Boks found himself decrying the presence of the elephant in the exhibit even though his agency had issued the two permits necessary to have the elephant there – ‘to my chagrin,’ he said.
OK, so, his agency issued premits for something he considers abuse? WTF? If it’s abuse then surely he should be able to step in and stop it, right?
“He tried late Friday to revoke the permits on grounds of public safety. ‘Some of the experts I’ve talked to have told me there’s no way of predicting when an elephant will go berserk,’ he said. ‘We want to do what’s right by the public and the animal.’ However, Boks would have to give five days’ notice to revoke the permits. And in five days, the exhibit will be gone.
What? Is anyone following this guy’s logic? The permits were applied for, granted because they met all the requirements to properly care for an animal like this and that would have been that. Except people flipped and it got a lot of attention, so the agency is now backtracking, but rather than dealing with the issue at hand, if the animal is being treated properly they pull up this public safety thing. How is it a public safety issue today and not one when the permits were applied for? If elephants just “go berserk” then why is the LAAS giving out permits to have animals in public? The reason, obviously is because that isn’t a threat at all and elephants that have “gone berserk” in the past have obvious evidence of being mistreated, which is why the LAAS has to grant permits in the first place. To make sure the animals are not being mistreated, which brings us back full circle. This is only an issue now because some folks sent angry e-mails. It won’t be an issue next week, and it won’t stop Tai from showing up in another commerical.
Someone in the comments yesterday asked how I, as a vegan and as art gallery owner feel about this. Would I have encouraged an artist to use a live elephant in my gallery, probably not. Is Banksy the devil for having a live elephant in his exhibition, probably not. If there is a villian here it’s the LAAS, they need a policy that they stick to, not something they use when no one is looking and then another one they pull out when questions are asked.
(Photo by Lucinda Michele)