Ai Weiwei explains why he created a new work to support his latest activist cause: tiger conservation

The World Wide Fund for Nature is honoring the Year of the Tiger – and its initiative to double the number of wild tigers – by teaming up with twelve artists, including Raqib Shaw, Reena Saini Kallat and Gary Hume, for the latest edition of ” Tomorrow’s Tigers”. The charity exhibition of limited edition art rugs will be on view at Sotheby’s London from 24-29 November.

Ai Weiwei is the big star of the occasion. He contributes The Tyger, the only unique rug in the sale. Other works from “Tomorrow’s Tigers” are available in editions of ten, all of which take the form of traditional Tibetan tiger rugs.

Carpet master Christopher Farr oversaw the production of all “Tomorrow’s Tigers” artwork, including Ai’s. Master weavers from Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan were brought in to make Ai’s self-employment, which is made from traditional Ghazani wool with natural flower colors like saffron, yellow larkspur and madder.

The Tyger is priced at £150,000, while prices for the other rugs in the sale are being finalized. Proceeds will benefit tiger conservation in 13 countries, from India to Vietnam. Since 2018, the “Tomorrow’s Tigers” project has raised over $780,000.

Gary Hume, Water Tiger. Ordered for tomorrow’s tigers
and WWF-UK. Organized by Artwise, manufactured by Christopher Farr.
Image (c) Artwise.

Ai told Artnet News that his interest in tigers dates back to when he was still living in China. But a big moment came in 2015, when he started shooting Human flow (2017), a documentary about the global refugee crisis. While working with Four Paws International in Gaza, “we rescued several animals that were dying due to starvation,” he recalls. Images he captured of a near-death tiger named Laziz have been seen in many of his exhibits.

On another trip to Mexico, Ai saw lions and tigers at an animal rescue center. “They were captured, held captive, exploited for entertainment, and then abandoned,” he recalls.

Ai Weiwei, The Tyger. Image courtesy Artwise.

Ai sees the plight of the tiger as part of a much larger condition. “To satisfy an insatiable desire, human beings constantly deprive other species of the possibility of existing,” says the artist. “This leads to the extinction of an unimaginable number of species, including tigers. Education has never been so developed in history, and at the same time animal cruelty has never been In ancient times, people with a strong mystical imagination had respect for animals and saw in them a common instinct for survival.

Due to poaching and habitat loss, the current global tiger population has declined by around 95%, from around 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century. Still, conservation efforts are working, albeit modestly. Tiger populations increased in 2016 for the first time, to 3,900 individuals. In July 2022, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species estimated that there were 4,500 wild tigers today, around three quarters of which lived in protected areas.

The gesture represented by The Tyger remains “just a drop in the bucket,” Ai said. “It is only a symbol of the good intentions of human beings. It is an attempt to explain through art what we can never explain, which is the dignity and beauty of life.

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