Sierra Leone-born and Australian-based artist Patricia Piccinini is renowned for her sculptures of human-animal hybrids. Piccinini, who has a BA in Painting from the Victorian College of the Arts, spent much of her early art career in medical museums, making drawings of preserved specimens. These studies of anatomical pathologies and malformations of all sorts are what eventually influenced her to create human-animal hybrid sculptures.

Her sculptures explore the relationship between humankind and these animals. Through this connection, coupled with the humanoid features of the sculpture, her artwork reflects on biodiversity and the interdependence of many species, emphasizing the need to take urgent action to reduce the loss of biodiversity and protect ecosystems. Hence, bringing attention to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Life on Land.

No Fear of Depths by Patricia Piccinini. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

She begins her process by first sketching the sculpture, from which her small team of technicians will then create a three-dimensional object. Her studio uses both traditional and modern processes; sculptures will begin with hand-sculpted plasticine or 3D graphic models that will later be cast or 3D-printed. The materials she uses also vary, employing everything from silicone to fibreglass, leather, and even real human hair.

A piece titled Kindred shows a human-orangutan fusion with two babies clinging to her, one bearing a strikingly human resemblance. For Piccinini, this is her visualization of the human connection to animals. Despite the long-held belief that humans are fundamentally different from other animals, genetic analysis and observations, particularly of primates, have revealed a much smaller gap. Thus, Kindred depicts three individuals at different points on a spectrum of animal-like traits, emphasizing their connection rather than their differences.

Kindred by Patricia Piccinini. Image courtesy of Cromwell Place.

Kindred is not the first time that Piccinini has explored “interspecies” connections, especially in the form of motherhood. Before that, she produced The Bond. This sculpture shows a human mother cradling her human-animal hybrid child. At first glance, viewers will see their facial resemblance, much like one would be able to with any other mother and child; however, this child is not human, or does having a human mother mean it is human after all?

The Bond by Patricia Piccinini. Image courtesy of Artsy.

This could be a visual metaphor for what it feels like to see humankind in animals. Researchers also suggest that anthropomorphism is a powerful tool for promoting low-profile species that are either endangered or require urgent attention. The case for this is how conservation efforts have been especially highlighted for social or intelligent animals, such as chimpanzees, polar bears, and dolphins, yet Piccinini's pieces extend beyond anthropomorphizing those species and affirm that humans must respect all wildlife despite their anthropomorphism, as they are their peers in Earth’s delicate ecosystem.

The Naturalist by Patricia Piccinini. Image courtesy of Artsy.

Whether they are marine life or life on land, humans tend to choose and pick which animals they extend their kindness towards. The more humanlike, docile, and affectionate the animals are towards humankind, the more likely they are to have humankind’s empathy and attention.

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