10 December 2010

Furry street graffiti: Neozoon makes repurposing a guerilla art form

Do you remember that fur coat hanging up in your grandmother’s closet -- the one that always added an element of glamour to any outfit she wore and felt like a sea of luxury when you gingerly ran your hand across it? As beautiful and desirable as it seemed at the time, did you actually realize that it was once part of a living creature? Don’t worry…I didn’t, either.

Long perceived as the icing on the couture cake -- a final fashionable crowning glory (quite like that perfect shade of red lipstick) that no self-respecting girl could possibly do without – fur coats have in recent decades lost their luster. The industry may still be alive and well, but today’s society is far more educated regarding how such vogue-worthy accessories are obtained. Furthermore, whether we embrace a vegetarian lifestyle, hug trees or consume fat, juicy burgers with reckless abandon, we’re not afraid to speak out in protest against a business which by its very nature is inherently cruel.

One of the most notable anti-fur campaigns was carried out in the 1980s when the animal rights organization PETA famously threw red paint on catwalks featuring fur-clad models (as well as women wearing fur coats on city streets), but as is quite often the case, efforts that make the greatest impact are often quietly thought-provoking. Such is the case with the Berlin and Paris-based artistic collaborative known as Neozoon, which have single-handedly cornered the market on a visually arresting form of upcycled street graffiti.

Proudly embracing their anonymity behind masks, an ever-changing lineup of guerilla artists trigger light bulb moments by accenting city walls with wildlife-shaped silhouettes carefully adorned with recycled fur coat panels. They’ve also been partial to using urban vegetation as the backdrop for three dimensional “re-animated” critter sculptures. Their vast portfolio of animal artwork – ranging in species from kangaroos, coyotes, deer and foxes to rabbits, tigers, sheep and bears – is achieved by scouring thrift shops for once loved and now outdated fashion cast-offs which are then DIYed into spectacular artistic glory.

Beyond engaging in the act of highly original upcycling, their covert nighttime missions stimulate natural conversations about how their repurposed coats were once on the backs of real live animals. Neozoon is an actual term given to animal species that are strategically introduced to new regions by man. Once they experience a population boom, they are typically deemed ‘invasive’ – as is the case with Asian carp in the Mississippi River basin – and subject to extermination. This has happened repeatedly throughout the ages, whether with wild rabbits, muskrats, raccoons or grey squirrels.

This European artist collective makes a bold statement about society’s captor-captive relationship with animals (for fashion, entertainment, food, etc.) by strategically selecting sites in major cities to showcase their works. Placing silhouetted bears just yards away from the location of real bears that were kenneled for decades or creating a small herd of sheep right outside one of Paris' former slaughterhouse districts speaks volumes about what has gone down throughout history at the expense of Mother Nature’s creatures.

A Neozoon representative explained that their art gently reminds onlookers that what was formerly an animal skin worn by a human being is now symbolically reincarnated into its natural state. By gazing at something that once had a heartbeat, perhaps people will ask questions such as, "Where have all the animals gone in my environment?" or "Was this piece of shrink wrapped supermarket meat really once alive and kicking?" Rather than strong-arming the world into adopting vegetarianism, they’re hoping to inspire a deeper level of thought regarding how each of us can personally establish a better connection to the natural world.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/barbnerdy