Sunday, September 18, 2011

Barbara Knight's Orangutan Woodcuts

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More about Barbara Knight and her work can be found on her Etsy store.

We tend to generally think of primates, particularly monkeys, as cute, comical creatures. Associations with fierceness and intimidation comes into play more with the apes. Gorillas, orangutans, and chimps are often and mistakenly called monkeys, but they are not, and should not be labeled so. Their closer genetic and morphological connection to humanity can make us feel a greater kinship to them and take a more protective of stance with regard to these noble beasts. However, it can also enter them into the uncanny valley, giving them an eerie, sometimes frightening quality.

It is the latter, more ominous association that is subtly emphasized in these two portraits. In both, the orangutan's gaze is focused slightly to the left, just missing an eye-to-eye connection. Their nostrils flare, two wide-open ovals as large as their beady, more reptilian than human-like, eyes. Shades of cold blue contrasted with firey oranges instill a sense of danger. Their giant heads, cropped around their tiny faces, loom over us, too close for comfort. The size and shape of their heads and wildness of their unkempt manes leave no doubt that these are alpha males, or at least big mamas, prepared to tear apart any who challenge their territorial authority or seem to threaten their precious babes.

Orangutans are the most solitary of the great apes. Of all the great apes, they spend the least amount of time among their own kind, and are the most difficult to maintain in healthy captivity. These are deeply sensitive, intelligent creatures, but very much introverts who prefer to be left alone. At a distance, they are graceful, red acrobats, navigating the forests of Borneo with their long arms and strong grips. But up too close, and these lovely and mysterious "men of the trees" can become tremendous ogres of the most nightmarish and legendary tales.

No comments:

Post a Comment