'Red Snail-Eating Dodo' by Camilla Westergaard aka Butterscotch & Beesting
I'm lucky enough to be part of the wonderful Moonko Collective, which represents and supports both emerging and established artists and designers. Through Moonko I became involved in the Ghosts of Gone Birds project, whose mission is to "raise a creative army for conservation through a series of multimedia exhibitions and events that will breathe artistic life back into extinct birds species".
Last year Ghosts of Gone Birds held an exhibition in London, where its 'creative army' included Sir Peter Blake, Oliver Jeffers, Ralph Steadman, and Angie Lewin. This year it's moved to the seaside, to the ONCA Gallery in Brighton.
'Oh Martha' by Victoria Foster aka The Aviary
'Red-Moustached Fruit Dove' by Emily Sutton
'Triptych of Hawaiian Gone Birds' by Eduardo Fuentes
'Snail-Eating Coua' by Brandon Lodge
'Laughing Owl' by Alexia Claire
I was one of the artists asked to help breathe life back into an extinct bird for the show. Reading through the list of extinct species, I found it really hard to pick one. All their stories are so sad, how do you choose just one? Some of them we know so little about, and even the ones which were captured on paper while they were alive, like the Dodo, vary so much in their depictions.
'Dodo' by Emily Reader aka Rose Petal Deer
One of the most touching stories was the tale of the Kaua'i'o'o which was native to Hawaii. In 1981, a single pair remained, but by 1982 the female had gone, probably killed by a hurricane. So then just one male was left. There is a recording of his voice from 1987, but nothing since. Imagine being the very last of your kind. It's his story that Deborah Moon chose to tell in her beautiful piece, where he sits among the branches of a tree, surrounded by pinned flowers, looking for his mate.
Kaua'i'o'o by Deborah Moon
Kaua'i'o'o (in progress) by Deborah Moon
As I was reading through the list, I started to imagine what might have happened if these birds had been allowed to survive. What would they look like now? Would the Dodo still be flightless or would he have regained some flight to escape the reach of man's knives, non-indigenous pigs and rats? Could any have started evolving into new species?
Maybe if they had survived, David Attenborough would right now be crouching in a bush in Mauritius, whispering above bird song about a species no one had seen before, which appeared to have the characteristics of a dodo but mixed with some features of the extinct Red Rail that shared its island.
Even though my knowledge of biology and evolution is shaky at best, I do know that would be very unlikely and would take thousands of years ... but what if a monkey called Solomon had been there? What if the Butterscotch & Beesting Circus had arrived on to the island? What if the Dodo, the Red Rail and the Snail-Eating Coua had loved the circus so much they had run off with it. What if, while they were there, they had been muddled by magic? Well then, we could have had a … drumroll please… Red Snail-Eating Dodo. But we never will. And we'll never know if the Red Snail-Eating Dodo would have flown across the Big Top, or balanced plates on the end of his beak. Imagine the stories he could have told.
So I thought I should tell his story instead. The one of the imaginary Red Snail-Eating Dodo.
'Red Snail-Eating Dodo' original screenprint by Butterscotch & Beesting
Sadly I can't save those poor birds from their fate. But I can take them into my imaginary circus, where they can live forever. And I'll try my best to help protect and cherish the birds I share my real-life world with too.
All the original pieces featured here are available to buy through the gallery, and I also have a limited edition of 50 four-colour screenprints available. If you would like to buy any of the pieces, you can email ONCA or contact me directly and I can forward your message on to the gallery. A percentage of the profits from the sale of all the original art and prints will go directly to help frontline conservation projects fighting to save the lives of endangered species around the world.
The exhibition runs until the end of January at Onca (One Network for Conservation and the Arts), 14 St George's Place, BN1 4GB, Brighton.
There are more details on the