Portraits of loss:
extinction by human actions
In contrast to the natural events that triggered Earth’s five mass extinctions, human activities are now responsible for the greatest loss of biodiversity since the age of dinosaurs. Biologists estimate that 50 percent of all plants and animals will vanish before the end of this century. How can we grasp the significance of this loss? We turn to the work of artists, who have an extraordinary capacity to touch us in ways that facts and figures cannot.
Artists transform scientific documentation about early human-induced extinctions—the dodo, the great auk, and the passenger pigeon, among others—into stirring portraits and still lifes. They commemorate animals and plants snuffed out by our own species to spark awareness about the contemporary extinction crisis. Their artworks reflect meticulous research and observational analysis of specimens from natural history museum collections. Sometimes they draw inspiration from nothing but pathetic remains. By reviving past life in often startling ways, these artists imprint their memory on our consciousness.
As in the past, an intensifying crisis now challenges artists to communicate the shocking loss of life and ecosystems. Their creative interpretations of significant historical, human-induced extinctions contribute to an evolving public consciousness supporting biodiversity. Artists ultimately hope to galvanize mindfulness of an individual’s environmental footprint and garner support for global conservation efforts currently underway.