One hundred-life-size elephants stomp down in Newport, Rhode Island, as part of conservation effort

This summer, among the venerable mansions and seaside cliffs of Newport, Rhode Island are some unexpected visitors: 100 life-size, artisan-made elephants. The conservation-minded installation, The Great Elephant Migration, is owed to local nonprofit Art&Newport and international NGO Elephant Family USA, committed to protecting the Asian elephant from extinction in the wild.

elephant sculptures
The elephants are located throughout Newport along its three-mile-long Cliff Walk and outside the Great Friends Meeting House. (Corey Favino)

The elephants—situated throughout Newport along its three-mile-long Cliff Walk and outside the Great Friends Meeting House—are slated to later embark on a 3,500-mile journey across the country stopping in  New York City; Miami; Blackfeet Nation; Buffalo Pastures in Browning, Montana; and Los Angeles. The project is driven by a goal to “support Indigenous-led conservation efforts and inspire peaceful human and animal coexistence across the country,” according to a press statement from Art&Newport.  

The 100 life-size sculptures are the work of 200 Indigenous artisans from India’s Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The elephants were crafted from the invasive lantana camara weed. The toxic shrub reduces food availability for elephants, driving them from their homes toward urban areas, sparking human-wildlife conflict. Another tragic effect of the plant’s presence: the lantana grows so high elephants and humans can’t see one another, provoking violent collisions. 

aerial view of elephant sculptures
The elephants will remain in Newport until September 2, before setting out on their year-long migration. (Corey Favino)

The elephant sculptures vary in size, replicating a real herd with both adults and adolescents. The lantana is processed into flexible strips and then fashioned to shape the creatures’ body, producing a corrugated texture. The beady eyes are first drawn in ink, cast in resin, then set in a lantana frame.

The project is two-pronged: It mitigates the overgrowth of lantana and provides financial support for the artisans. The elephants, available for sale, will also raise money for conservation NGOs including Coexistence Consortium, Elephant Family USA, Lion Guardians, and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, among others. Generally, these NGOs aim to protect animals—particularly lions, leopards, and elephants—and preserve biodiversity through improving human-wildlife interactions.

elephant sculptures
Two hundred Indigenous artisans from India’s Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve crafted the elephants from lantana camara weed. (Corey Favino)

Accompanying the herd, is a multisited exhibition by Iranian artist Hadi Falapishi, titled SEARCHERS. SEARCHERS curates 100 paintings, sculptures, and objects to offer a meditation on migration, paralleling both the movement of the exhibition throughout the country and the real Asian elephants’ displacement from their natural habitats. As Falapishi noted in a statement, “my show imagines a place when new creatures arrive and projects how the locals respond to that news.”

On July 1, Art&Newport and Elephant Family USA hosted a ceremony to celebrate the elephants’ arrival. Remaining in Newport until September 2, the elephants will then set out on their year-long migration.

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