French artist Christine Bleny has had a two-decade-long career, painting nature scenes with a signature addition of metal leaves. For her three painting series, Diamonds of Africa, she has depicted the beauty of African elephants, clearly stating that they are indeed as beautiful as diamonds. However, the piece’s title also alludes to how African elephants, just like diamonds, particularly African diamonds, are exploited by people and subjected to a notoriously corrupt illegal international trade. Bleny’s pieces remind her viewers to do what they can to alleviate the population threats that beautiful African elephants face. This makes her series relevant to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Responsible Consumption and Production and Life on Land.

Photograph of Christine Bleny in her studio. Image courtesy of Christine Bleny’s website.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), African elephants play a pivotal role in the ecosystem. Up to 30 percent of tree species in central Africa require them to help with dispersal and germination. They are also known to help equalize the dispersion of fresh water and forest covers.

Sadly, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ has classified African elephants into two species: the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana), as respectively endangered and critically endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has found that only 415,000 African elephants remain in the wild when combined.

Diamonds of Africa (1/3) by Christine Bleny. Image courtesy of Christine Bleny’s website.

Both IUCN and WWF agree that human-elephant conflict and illegal wildlife trade remain the two biggest causes of the decline of the African elephant population. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to conversion to agricultural lands and settlements also trail closely behind, with their habitat range now being cut to less than a third of what it was in 1979.

As Bleny’s Diamonds of Africa suggests, these bleak circumstances are akin to those in the diamond industry. A report by Deutsche Welle (DW) found that big-name diamond companies deliberately target African countries with political and social instability, as their diamond source states. This allows them to lower labour and infrastructure costs.

To make matters worse, the same report also found that illegal diamond mines are sprouting like wildfire in Congo, Anglo and Mozambique. These circumstances have cost African countries a collective loss of around 32 percent of their diamond revenue, revenue that their respective countries are in dire need of.

Diamonds of Africa (2/3) by Christine Bleny. Image courtesy of Christine Bleny’s website.

As Bleny has pointed out, both African elephants and African diamonds are suffering at the hands of human greed. One is suffering at the hands of big diamond companies, while the other is at the hands of irresponsible poachers. Hence, Bleny’s pieces become reminders for her viewers to make better consumerist decisions when dealing with both diamonds and African elephants. As the WWF has outlined, the average person can contribute to the cause by ensuring they do not purchase goods made from African elephant parts, such as ivory and African elephant hide souvenirs. Meanwhile, in terms of diamonds, customers can support initiatives such as Diamonds for Peace (DFP), which ensures that diamonds are mined, cut and processed with humanitarian and environmental considerations.

Find out more about Christine Bleny’s Diamonds of Africa series and their other paintings by checking their Instagram @christineblenyart.

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