by Patricia Piccinini (2018)
The idea that we, as humans, are uniquely and fundamentally different from other animals is a cornerstone of how humans have traditionally seen themselves. It is this specialness that allows us to exploit the environment and other beings around us so completely. The idea that humans are essentially different from the environment and other animals is part of the reason why we are willing to cut down vast tracts of rainforest to plant cheap cash crops like palm oil. While some people benefit from this, most other animals do not. Orangutangs are amongst those animals most threatened by this deforestation.
However, this idea of fundamental difference is not actually so real. Both genetic analysis and observation is now showing how small the difference is. We see common DNA everywhere, and common behaviours in many other animals, especially primates. Like us, Orangutan mothers keep their children close and educate them for many years. They are perhaps our closest primate relative. For me, this is not about anthropomorphising Orangutangs. It is about acknowledging our common animalness.
In this work we see three unique individuals each set at a different point on a continuum of greater or lesser ‘animalness’. Each of these figures is a hybrid, but all are both unique and connected. The mother is closest to the primate inspiration, and you might even imagine that she is a rendering of a true orangutang, but her features are actually much closer to ours. Her two children each look increasingly human, both somewhere between her and us. However, the point is not their differences but their connection. They all share the same hair and eyes, but more than that they share an obvious bond, and they all look in the same direction: outwards, to us and to the future.