Ai Weiwei’s Tyger to Support Tiger Population

One of 12 artists supporting Tiger Conservation

Ai Weiwei with his rug The Tyger (2022), commissioned for Tomorrow’s Tigers and WWF-UK. Rug fabricated by Christopher Farr. Image © Thierry Bal, Courtesy Ai Weiwei.

Celebrated contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has unveiled his most recent source of inspiration: tigers. With its simple title, Tyger, Ai’s Tibetan rug work concerns significant matters of Asian culture, mass extinction, and the power of art and activism.

The Tyger is a one of one work and stands as a part of Tomorrow’s Tigers the latest curated project from Artwise. An additional eleven renowned artists have also been commissioned and invited to create limited edition tiger themed art rugs. The exhibit reaches far beyond a simple gallery viewing and is instead a fundraising effort in tandem with the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) campaign TX2 to rehabilitate and revitalize the world’s tiger population.

The campaign began in 2010 when the species was at a crucial juncture with only 3,200 tigers roaming the Earth. Over the course of a century, the population had shrunken by 95% as a result of deforestation and poaching in the illegal tiger trade. The statistics were enough to cause action. At the international economic forum of the St. Petersburg Summit, 13 governments vowed their efforts and resources to double the number of tigers by 2022. From there the WWF created a shared vision and laid the groundwork, designing TX2 to signal ‘tigers times two’.

The longstanding plan, backed by the Global Tiger Initiative and the Global Tiger Forum was not without the support of political powers, conservationists, and communities spanning various countries – including artists raising awareness on the matter. Enter the work of Ai Weiwei currently on view at Sotheby’s London.

Ai Weiwei, The Tyger (2022). Rug fabricated in Afghanistan by Turquoise Mountain weavers under the direction of Christopher Farr. Traditional Ghazani wool, natural colours including undyed white and black sheep’s wool, and oranges created using a mixture of saffron, yellow larkspur and madder. Image © Thierry Bal. Courtesy Ai Weiwei.

The rug’s design is just as elaborate and ornate as its inspiration; the apex predator prone to diverse habitats has been transformed into a widespread two-dimensional surface. Hand knotted, hand spun, and naturally hand dyed Ghazni wool beautifully replicates a burnt, marbled orange color. A black outline and haphazard stripes are geometric and organically constructed, allowing for depth. An expressive face and entangled limbs enter from all sides of the canvas, encroaching upon the viewer, reminding it of its untimely, and yet preventable demise.

Tiger, Tiger, Tiger (2015) by Ai Weiwei

This isn’t the first project by Ai concerning the plight of the world’s tigers. On the floor of the Chambers Fine Art gallery in New York laid 3,000 white and blue porcelain vessels. Tiger, Tiger, Tiger (2015) was depicted as iconoclasm, disrupting the highly coveted and respected artifacts from the Ming Dynasty. Yet despite their weathered, fragmented state, the imagery of hand painted tigers remains intact and visible.

Intentionally preserved, the artist recalls his upbringing in China, young and hyper aware of media and imagery depicting tigers. In speaking with Artnet the artist contextualizes the country’s relationship with the species and his personal beliefs about the sacred animal. “Education has never been so developed in history, and at the same time, animal cruelty has never been so prevalent. In ancient times, people, with strong mystical imagination, used to have respect for animals and see a shared instinct of survival in them.”

A decade of work from TX2, and its supporters has culminated in the Year of the Tiger, dawning from the traditional Chinese calendar. As Asian countries and individuals far and wide honor the tiger for its bravery and strength, they can also celebrate tangible results from the World Wildlife Fund and Artwise. In addition to generating $780,000 from Tomorrow’s Tigers for tiger rehabilitation, the WWF has noted the increase and protection around tiger conservation areas in China, Nepal, and Bhutan. Most notably, tiger numbers have tripled in Russia’s national park Land of the Leopard. Yet there’s still much work to be done.

The 2nd Global Tiger Summit, which took place in September of this year, continued with its ongoing goal to aid tigers from extinction. In addition to developing more reserves on open lands, leaders and representatives have devised plans to combat poaching, revitalize established habitats, and expand protected areas for tigers to thrive out of harm’s way. Moving into the future countries hope to employ new resources and techniques along the way such as camera traps, reporting systems, biodiversity conservation, and legislation. Along with the countries in attendance, WWF and conservation experts will be of assistance every step of the way.

Ai holds similar sentiment, hoping his work and his words will inspire and enact change.

“In my opinion, human civilization can only be measured against human beings’ relationship with other beings in the world, our tolerance and understanding towards other species, and the well-being of all life…I am very honored to participate in this project and hope that more people will devote themselves to wildlife conservation in their own ways. Protection of endangered animals is a kind of self-love, without which we would all be living in a savage land.”

–Kennedy Smith

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