Exhibition on rhino poaching opens at the Castle

Castle of Good Hope CEO Calvyn Gilfellon explains the story of Hope, a poached rhino.

An exhibition titled If These Bones Could Talk, opened at the Castle of Good Hope on Saturday December 12.

The series of sculptures, photographs and drawings by artist Monique van Deventer aims to put a spotlight on rhino poaching.

CEO of the Castle of Goodhope, Calvyn Gilfellon, said rhino poaching was centuries old, and it was fitting to have the exhibition at the castle, as it was a place where sadly, people were hunted too.

Ms Van Der Venter, who is from KwaZulu-Natal, said she met curator of the exhibition, Carol Brown two years ago, when she attended an art course Ms Brown was running.

She said the exhibition was close to her heart, and the work was based on her own experiences with rhino poaching in South Africa.

“The more I had encounters with rhinos, I felt an overwhelming urge to be a voice for them and tell their stories – and to highlight that their suffering does not go unnoticed.”

Guest speaker Professor Fritha Langerman from the UCT Michaelis School of Fine Art, said artists play a critical role in reimaging the life of rhinos and other creatures, and drawing our attention to their plight through empathetic means.

“Monique van Deventer’s drawings, photographs and ceramics focus on individual rhinoceroses affected by poaching. Through sensitive marks and sensuous moulding, she uses matter to make a physical and haptic connection with these extraordinary creatures. Bones are turned from substance to immaterial X-rays and through the transformation of malleable clay to fragile earthenware, the artist connects with the subject, and in so doing imparts this experience to the viewer.”

“The title of this exhibition is If These Bones Could Talk, and yet, bones are always talking.”

Professor Langerman shared the story of the rhino named Ganda, which Albrecht Dürer recorded in 1515 in a wood engraving that became the definitive image of a rhino and was reproduced for the next 200 years.

“In 1515, an Indian rhino was sent as a diplomatic gift from the governor of Portuguese India to King Emmanuel 1 of Portugal.

Housed below deck on a boat full of spices that set sail from Goa to Lisbon, the rhino was a symbol of colonial power and ownership.

Remarkably, the rhino survived this five-month journey and was the first rhino to arrive in Europe since the 3rd century.

“Once in Lisbon, Ganda was housed within the king’s menagerie, but he soon tired of the rhino, as it did not live up to legendary expectations of doing battle with his elephants. Emmanuel gifted the rhino to Pope Leo X, and, dressed in a garland of gilt carnations and a velvet collar, the rhino again entered a ship bound for Rome. Sadly, the ship sank near Marseilles, and Ganda was drowned – its gilt garland floating on the surface of the water. The passage of rhinos was a demonstration of colonial power and a measure of control that these powers exercised over the colonies and their inhabitants,” said Professor Langerman.

“Here in the Castle of Good Hope at the tip of Africa, around which point Ganda the Indian rhino passed in a ship more than 500 years ago, we are left to consider our relationship with the natural world.”

Ms Van Der Venter said her hope is that the exhibition will create change for the good of the rhino.

The exhibition will be at the Castle of Good Hope until the first week of April next year. The date is still to be confirmed.