Charlotte Webster of Human Nature interviews the incomparable Louis Masai, project partner & curator of ENDANGERED 13. Best known for his murals of endangered species, Louis is also a sculptor and illustrator. His fast growing popularity goes hand in hand with vision, ambition, talent and a genuine determination to make a positive impact on the world. Not only project curator he will of course be painting at ENDANGERED13 too. He talks to Charlotte about the roots of his motivation to make a difference and why other artists are joining the environmental movement.
What’s your earliest memory of having a strong relationship with animals? Why do you think you have this?
I have had an affinity with the animal kingdom since I can remember. When I was about ten years old, I did a WWF walk to raise money for tigers. Throughout my childhood I had posters of tigers and lions on my walls and I collected all the geeky animal science weekly zines. I look at animals and I feel a passion and love that I can’t really explain, I’d rather talk with my dog and cat than the neighbour. I do talk to the neighbour as well but animals have a sixth sense and I feel I understand that sense, I guess that sixth sense as we coin it makes me feel calm and collected. I don’t often find that energy is easy to experience with humans, when I do find people that have that energy its often that they feel similarly as I do about nature. Perhaps we are a different species of human, more nature than technology.
I’d consider you a pretty prolific painter who’s really focused on your work, how many different endangered species have you painted over the years and how do you decide what to focus on?
Ha, funny you should ask that. I am in the process of putting together my first book, it will be in a bid to help save the last rhinos in the wild. The book will document all the endangered animals that I have painted, so I started thinking about which species I had done and what I still needed to get painted this year for the book. I think I’m at around 180 species now.
Right now I am working on a lot of ocean species, coral is a massive concern, the main reason being that the corals support the biodiversity of nearly everything in the ocean, from sharks to shrimps. When the coral dies the rest of the ocean will follow in a fast downward spiral.
You’re travelling a lot more these days, what impact do you hope to have by working internationally?
If I wasn’t an artist id definitely be a traveller, I love visiting new communities and experiencing how things work somewhere else. So at the moment I’m in a wonderful position because I can do both and the art is the reason that it is all possible, I’m living the dream. I guess by painting on foreign lands I am able to spread my message wider, not just because the people are different but also because the media attention and social media that will be different. When an artist works internationally it connects more parts of a puzzle.
Why do you think you’re still in the minority of artists looking at the environment when it’s probably the biggest issue of our time?
Well, I think it’s usually the minorities that fight the hardest to be heard. In a way I’m glad I am the minority in this instance. Having said that I want to encourage more people to be aware of our impacts on our environment. I think that a lot of the general public are unaware of how many environmental issues are tackled with policies just scratching the surface. Ultimately there’s still too much of an emphasis on profit over planet.
Recycling is a classic example of this. If governments really cared about recycling surely they would impose tax on unneeded packaging on our foods. Plastic is a man made disgrace that is destroying our planet and our health, but instead of capping consumer use of plastic our present government has imposed small charges on plastic shopping bags. Whilst it’s wonderful that something has been introduced, it’s such a ridiculously small change to a huge issue and one that barely addresses the concerns that should be acknowledged. If I shopped in Sainsbury’s I could fill a plastic bag full of plastic after I had unwrapped all my food. If I bought the same foods in a market there would be almost nothing in that plastic bag after I had unpacked everything. That highlights where the real problem is. I can at least reuse the plastic shopping bag a few times, the plastic wrapped around my food is useless. My art doesn’t directly attack these issues, but by painting creatures affected by the plastic, in this instance whales and other plankton eating creatures, it address that plastic that is killing aquatic life. In my opinion not enough people, including artists, are aware of the real situation, if more become aware then more will probably address the issues.
How important is it to get other artists involved? How do you hope to do that? And what do you hope will be the result?
This project has come together to create a foundation to connect all the dots: the artists, the paintings, the facts about animals, the organisations working to protect these species and the public that do actually care.
This project really does have the potential to make small changes that make more of an impact than paying 5p for a shopping bag.