Since the earliest coins were minted, animals have always been a common symbolic feature of them. The ancient coins of Greece would frequently have an owl (Athens) or a dolphin (Delphos) embossed on them. And our paper money today features the “big five” with pride.
The link between economics and wildlife may be ancient but it is not necessarily obvious. The Greeks used the owl to symbolise wisdom and the dolphin patience but today we increasingly see animals and nature not for their own strengths but for what we (as humans) can take from them and how we can use and misuse them. The Big W(hole) poignantly illustrates this.
Maria has illustrated an animal protected in Jo’burg Zoo that has survived nine gunshot wounds and half her horn violently being hacked off. An endangered rhino confronts the viewer below an image of the first diggings at Kimberley.
The rush for diamonds – the beginnings of the minerals explosion that created South Africa’s wealth and which has also led to a host of social, political and environmental disasters – is linked with an animal that has been exploited for its base economic resource for man: its horn said by some to have properties that make it more valuable than the life that carries it beyond its nose. Humans – cruel, greedy and consumed by lust – still cannot see beyond the tip of the sublime.
The Nelson Mandela bridge, constructed of rubbings of R5 pieces bearing Nelson Mandela’s smiling face and lighting the way into a new horizon penetrates a void made up of a falling skyline constructed from coins bearing an unsmiling and topsy-turvy Queen Victoria. Below the bridge – a symbol of new growth and a journey into the future – apartheid politicians B.J. Voster and P.W. Botha has been used, perhaps echoing the fairytales where a hidden creature under the bridge lies in wait ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting traveler. The New Crossing seems to warn us that even in the brightest moments when we gaze at the future we must be aware of the goblins and ghosts that haunt our past, always ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. Before we get to the deep blue sea we must avoid the devil that, alas, seems ever-present in our past.