Artful World of Animals

Curatorial Work


An Art Competition and Exhibition Celebrating 50 years of teaching at the Melbourne University Faculty of Veterinary Science

University Hall, The University of Melbourne
Sep 27 - Oct 6 2013 | Gala Reception & Awards: Oct 5 2013

Curated by Purnima Ruanglertbutr

Explore the world’s most spectacular and loved creatures, large and small, exotic and familiar. University staff, students and alumni as well as the wider community including Veterinarians, veterinary nurses, photographers, artists and designers, offer their critical and creative interpretations on animals using diverse mediums, art styles and techniques. From the curious to the marvellous, this exhibition is a testament to the importance of animals to human culture. Works of art were judged in categories of medium and winners were announced at the gala reception and awards function.


The Artful World of Animals draws from the vast creative inspirations of thirty-five veterinarians, veterinary nurses, professional and enthusiast artists, designers and photographers from across Australia, to produce a compelling portrait of the animal world, represented in a wide array of cultures, artistic styles, and media. The collection includes over one hundred works of art across painting, drawing, digital photography and digital illustrations, textiles, mixed media, prints, video and multimedia, and installations, which explore the human – animal relationship.

The artists communicate critical knowledge associated with detailed looking, imagining and representing, demonstrated by their reflective and informative commentaries. Some of the artists included in this exhibition have drawn their subjects from life, depicting the roles animals play in our everyday experience, while others have used animals with symbolic intent or have anthromorphosized them to humourous, playful, or even unsettling ends. Seen together, these works reveal the magnificent variety not only in the animal kingdom, but also in humanity’s artistic interpretations of it.

What do these artists exhibit? Numerous themes come to the fore in the art works presented in this collection. Several artists use the creative medium to address topical developments in human dealings with animals. Such issues include, for example, the controversial nature of zoological institutions. The zoo, once seen as the realm of innocent childhood treats, sparks many ethical meditations on animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Do we, as sentient beings, have the right to confine other sentient beings behind bars, depriving them of their freedom, their natural pleasures and their chance to roam? Is the intention of zoos to satisfy our voyeuristic inclinations or to act as an essential part of conservation efforts? These are some of the questions that the artists examine, through creative demonstration of the dual perspectives of animal captivity. These artists include Marianne Hevern, Tristan Lee and Ainsley Sutton.

As an extension upon this investigation, selected artists challenge the process of animal categorisation, classification and division that forms part of taxonomies in zoology and that are visible in the compartmentalisation of animals in related institutions. They express how people “frame” other animals so pervasively, and what the ramifications might be of this habit. Such points of explorations reverberates the quintessence of Randy Malamud’s book, An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture in which the author explains how placing animals a cultural frame (a film, a zoo, an advertisement, a website, a drawing), implies taking them out of their natural contexts, leaving them somehow displaced and decontextualised. The artists who edge towards these examinations in their art works allude to the human power over animals.

Numerous artists explore the theme of human control over animals through an examination of the processes and impacts of animal domestication from human perspectives. These artists for example, include Nicole Chan Qing, Niamh Vlahakis and Gloria Perkovic. They express society’s tendency to humanise pets, depicted for instance, in photographs comprising of animals in human-like postures and in the use of metaphors and symbols that exemplify animal adaption into human society. They also speak of animal exploitation that is commonly motivated by self-interest and profitability.

Artists that further explore the detrimental impact of humans on the animal world include Selvi Jegatheeson, Ella Richardson, Tristan Lee and Fiona Anderson. Whether it is through depicting processes involved in management of cattle such as dehorning, or the changing trends in local animal behaviours as a result of human infringement in their natural environment, cruelty to animals in laboratories for testing and experiments, or the endangerment of species as a result of overexploitation and habitat destruction, all these artists represent issues of economics and safety using figuration.

Many works of art in the collection exude more affectionate sentiments and relationships between humans and animals, demonstrating the reciprocal reliability and compassion between humans and animals. Deborah Storie’s photographs for example, accentuates the critical role that animals play toward human survival, depicted in the symbol of a donkey as a mode of water retrieval and transport in rural Afghanistan. Complimentarily, some artists express the reliability that young animals have upon humans, as communicated for example, in Ainsley Sutton’s drawing of a vulnerable baby wombat in the care of a veterinary nurse in an animal shelter. The photographic medium is commonly used by artists in this exhibition to express the companionship and great joy that animals bring to their lives. Through depictions of their pets, the artists explore the human-animal bond, which they experience as providing significant physical, psychological, and physiological benefits to their well-being. Such artists include Fiona Armour, Rosemary Irving, Amy Sledziona and Dawn Perry. Notably, some of their exquisite photographs owe inspiration to portraiture rather than documentation, creating an atmosphere rather than making a statement. The animals in their photographs have an enigmatic presence that excites our curiosity and invites us into their world.

Owing to the spontaneous, experimental, playful and calming nature of artistic expression, many of the artists exhibit their attempts to fervently document transient moments in the animal world, using diverse subject matter, art styles and techniques. Unique in their aesthetics, these art works illuminate animals and animal behaviours that have inspired, captivated, and motivated their creative productions during these artists’ adventurous travels to other countries, regions or locations in Australia. These artists include Kathryn A Brock, Rosemary Etherton, Kathy Horvat, Pete Marshall, Clive May, Susie May, Harshal Sakhare and Patricia Stewart.

It is worthy to note that many of the artists represented in the exhibition are already active art-makers – the exhibition provided these artists with an opportunity to showcase their current artistic practices in line with their interests and the theme of the exhibition, Artful World of Animals. Artists including Laura Black, Nick Heynsbergh, Rosalind Paterson and Richard Lam, Kevin Rowley and Matthew Goldsworthy, among many others demonstrate strong technical acumen in their media, using animals motifs to symbolise contemporary culture and media, often using materials particular to their profession. Richard Lam for example, integrates the use of radiographic films in his art works, combining science to offer new ways of seeing animals. In oblique ways, art can employ the particular characteristics of their medium to address perceptions of the animal. Gloria Perkovic, for instance presents a series of photographs that playfully illuminates the world from the point of view of a cat. Animal perspectives are also conveyed in The Artful World of Animals.

Unique to creative expression is the liberty to visualise the imagined. Artists including Jessica Webb and Ingrid Wood take viewers on a fantastic and humorous visual voyage to composite animals that entertain and challenge conventional perceptions toward that animal.

I am delighted to also exhibit in The Artful World of Animals, a selection of paintings from the critically acclaimed Chinese artist, Chai Yiming, whose works have been generously presented for display in this exhibition, by The Australia China Art Foundation. Chai’s works of art add an Asian cultural perspective to the interpretation of animals in visual art. His works feature mythical and hybrid creatures that fuse plants, animals and people – a motif he uses to construct an idealistic world which draws on the values of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism.

Exclusive to this exhibition is the display of Douglas Charles Blood’s outstanding collection of bird images. As the former Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Doug Blood’s photographs provide contextual significance to the competition’s purpose – to celebrate fifty years of excellence in teaching at the Melbourne University Faculty of Veterinary Science. The sheer number of entries is certainly a testament to the profound passion that the students, staff and alumni of the Faculty and members of the MUVS, exhibit toward their veterinary professions. How they have divergently amalgamated their discipline-specific expertise in science, with art is admirable, demonstrating inter-disciplinary thinking and practice.

When I was appointed to curate the exhibition, I was eager to involve the wider community of art and animal enthusiasts to participate in the competition. My vision encompassed bringing together a community of practitioners from diverse walks of life, who share the enthusiasm and interest in art and animals, and who would be inspired to critically and creatively comment upon their own creative and professional pursuits. I invited the artists to explore some of the following questions in their art: (1) Is there such thing as animal perspective, and what might this world look like? (2) What kind of interactions exists between human beings and animals? (3) What are the impacts of human beings on the animal world? (4) What sentiments are stirred within and between animals, and towards animals? They were encouraged to address the biology The Artful World of Animals gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our major sponsor of animals, from single cells to ecosystems, and use abstraction, figuration, symbol or metaphor. As a result, the artists combine nature, art and animals in a myriad of ways.

I thank them for their perceptive insights, their willingness to share, their sensitivity towards the subject, and for their enthusiasm towards The Artful World of Animals. I would like to thank Professor Bruce Parry for inviting me aboard this journey of curating the exhibition and for his support provided towards the realisation of my curatorial rationale. I also extend my greatest appreciation to the Melbourne University Veterinary Society, members of the Melbourne University Faculty of Veterinary Science and our sponsors for their financial backing and belief in the exhibition to entertain, inspire and educate through art. Art and animal enthusiasts and professionals are warmly welcome to delight in The Artful World of Animals.



Curator’s Introduction

Artist Interviews


With thanks to the Melbourne University Faculty of Veterinary Science, the Melbourne University Veterinary Society (MUVS), the Festival of Ideas 2013 and Royal Canin for their help, encouragement and support towards this exhibition.