For the last 5 years I have been in the habit of producing a collection of work each year according to my own brief. Usually this is an idea that forms within the completion of the previous year and then I have to fight with myself to abandon that one and get on with the new.
And so it was as last year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species exhibition was being hung that I had begun my Hallowed Ground project. This idea hadn’t come to me fully formed and I’d had to do a lot of casting around for the inspiration to sort of glue together. Part of my process was to research ways that other cultures mark their grief, their death customs. This had led me to discover the practice of Sky Burial and Air Sacrifice.
Both practices are types of excarnation, whereby the corpse is placed outside to be exposed to the elements and scavenging animals. In the Mongolian practice of air sacrifice, I discovered the specific ritual of outlining the body with stones, and when the body has completely degenerated back into the natural world, the space within the stones has become a sacred space.
I found this very moving. Considering this concept and applying it to the world’s most critically endangered species made me think about how their habitats have become so rarefied and equally as threatened as to require reverence. The idea of a negative space as an artistic device representing an extremely special, precious and rare place.
I began to research animals on the IUCN Red List that are classified as Critically Endangered but that also have severely threatened habitats. My intention was to create a representation of their home that was both faithful and fantastical. A grave and an afterlife. A place that draws the viewer in to explore, hopefully to delight, and then to ask questions to discover the story of this rare and absent friend.
Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad
The Rio Pescado Stubfoot toad is so critically endangered that it may already be extinct. It lives in a tiny scrap of Ecuadorian lowland forest that is dwindling away, and lives nowhere else. Indeed, it’s loss of habitat due to agriculture, logging and pollution is the main threat to its existence. One third of all frogs and toads are on the verge of extinction, suffering an 80% loss in the last 3 decades.
The large tooth sawfish is one of the rarest fish in the world, and a living dinosaur, existing for 60 million years at least. Degradation of their preferred habitat of shallow coastal estuaries has removed them from 95% of their historical range. The sawfish has suffered a population decline of 80% since the ‘60s.
Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth
The Pygmy three-toed sloth is found only in a tiny area of red mangrove forest on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Despite being an uninhabited island and designated a protected landscape, a number of domestic and international efforts have been mounted to develop tourism on the island. In addition, their mangrove habitat is also threatened, with one in six species facing extinction.
Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat
One of the world’s rarest mammals, only found on the Seychelles islands of Silhouette and Mahe, there are estimated only 30-100 individuals remaining. Roosting in granite boulder caves, an introduced invasive species of vine block the cave entrances and reduce insect availability, already in decline due to pesticide use.
A very small and beautiful tortoise only found in the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. In fact, this is the only species in this series classed as Endangered (not Critically), however destruction of more than 90% of its habitat, an extraordinarily botanically diverse area, itself classed critically endangered as well as ‘100% irreplaceable’, earned its place.
This otherworldly electric blue arachnid only exists in the dry deciduous forest of Andhra Pradesh, India. Its habitat is rapidly degrading due to logging and firewood harvesting. Population size is unknown but the combination of a tiny natural range and pressure from illegal pet trade paints a sad picture.
Kate Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. She attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design as a Fashion and Illustration student, but is largely self-taught in hand-embroidery techniques. Kate’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, burial customs and the old Gods. She is currently working on projects around our disappearing natural world, and lost species.