Herd of elephants leads season of exciting exhibitions

By Helena Touhey

From Rough Point to the Great Friends Meeting House, The Breakers to the Bristol Art Museum, Newport Art Museum, Jamestown Arts Center and Redwood Library, the summer art scene offers much to explore

This summer, the City-by-the-Sea will host a herd of 100 life-size elephants, all hand-made in Southern India and part of The Great Elephant Migration. “The message is all about coexistence,” says Dodie Kazanjian, founder of Art & Newport.

Elephants among the herd at Rough Point. Photo by Corey Favino, Courtesy Elephant Family USA and Newport Restoration Foundation.

The elephants will be at four sites throughout Newport: Rough Point, The Breakers, Salve Regina University and The Great Friends Meeting House; they will be in the city through early September. Alongside these installations there will be contemporary artwork by Hadi Falapishi, an Iran-born, New York-based artist. This work will be “overlooking, communicating, and collaborating with the elephants,” says Kazanjian. Those installations will be on view inside the Meeting House, within the solarium at Rough Point, and in the Great Hall at The Breakers.

Each elephant is made from lantana camara, an invasive weed throughout the world and, especially, India. The use of this material is meant to spread word about invasive species and the need to protect biodiversity.

The elephants are crafted using dried lantana camara, which is wrapped around a steel rebar frame and then coated with Osmo oil for protection. The herd is formed of elephants constructed in four sizes: calf, adolescent, matriarch, and tusker.

The elephants are made in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India where, as information on The Great Elephant Migration website explains, “humans and elephants coexist in the densest overlap of the planet,” and indigenous communities “see everything in nature as being alive and having a soul. The wind has a spirit, whispering secrets to the trees as she moves through. The stars, rocks, rivers, trees, plants and animals are all part of a big family.”

The website continues: “This way of looking at the world is rooted in mutual respect and reciprocity. There’s a reverence for nature and all its inhabitants and a belief that the earth will look after us if we are respectful towards the earth and all of its inhabitants.

Hadi Falapishi, “Going West, 2024. On view in the Solarium at Rough Point.

“Humans are a part of a larger web of life, where everything is interconnected. When we harm the earth or other beings, we harm ourselves. If we behave respectfully towards the elephants, they are expected to behave in return. This way of looking at the world is key to everyone’s survival and successful coexistence
between all living beings.”

Each elephant is a sculpture of an elephant with a real name. Kazanjian has called the migration a “monumental, cinematic and moving work of performance art.”

All the elephants will be for sale, with proceeds going back to the Indigenous communities that crafted them. Known as The Coexistence Collective, it includes roughly 200 members of the Soligas, Bettakurumbas, Kattunayakan and Paniyas tribes, who coexist with the wild elephants the herd is based on.

The proceeds provide a source of financial stability, status and pride for members of the Collective, as well as support for projects that protect biodiversity and humans and wildlife sharing space. Prices range from $8,000 for a baby elephant to $22,000 for a tusker.

Locally, proceeds will also benefit Save The Bay, which works to remove invasive phragmites from salt marshes and to restore the populations of the salt marsh sparrow whose survival depends on a healthy marsh habitat.

Newport is the first leg of a North American tour, and from here the herd will travel to New York City, Miami Beach, Yellowstone National Park, and Los Angeles. Kazanjian is curating the show throughout its migration.

For more information, visit thegreatelephantmigration.org and artandnewport.org.

KAZANJIAN WILL ALSO COLLABORATE with the Newport Art Museum this summer, which will showcase the work of internationally acclaimed artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude and celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Ocean Front project in Newport. This show, “Ocean Front, 50 Years Later,” is also the inspiration for the annual Summer Art Ball. That showcase will include the work of contemporary artist Eric N. Mack, whose installations Kazanjian said will be in conversation with the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. “He’s a young artist who comes out of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, you could say,” says Kazanjian.

“Space Toothbrush” by Nick Mele. Courtesy of NAM.

Also on view at the Newport Art Museum is “Pages & Play,” featuring the photography of Nick Mele, who is known for his whimsical approach to American luxury and elegance. His portfolio spans lifestyle, fashion, and fine art photography and, in many ways, follows in the footsteps of Slim Aarons — whose work will be on view next door at the Redwood Library as a sort of companion exhibition (and which is featured in our summer issue, now on newsstands).

“Pages & Play” shows the world of Newport as captured by Mele, whose images depict “domestic scenes brimming with unfiltered joy reminiscent of carefree childhood days.” A description for the show elaborates: “Each image transports viewers into an enchanting realm where the unique charm of this historic city comes to life,” evoking “a sense of old-world glamour and modern irreverence.”

Curated across two gallery spaces, the exhibition has an interactive element. One gallery will feature Mele’s photographs, and the other will host an immersive environment curated in collaboration with designer and author Danielle Rollins, in conjunction with Matthew Esposito and Nicole McNamara. Rollins, whose namesake firm is based in Palm Beach and New York, has worked on residential and commercial interior and garden projects around the country, and is known for her “fearless and flawless take on color, an irreverent blend of patterns, and a comfortable, non-pretentious approach to glamorous interiors suitable to a modern lifestyle.”

The interactive portion of the exhibition will mirror the lush backdrops she created for the Mele family home in Palm Beach, and visitors will be invited to “step into Mele’s world and become living parts of his timeless photographs.”

“Pages & Play” is on view through Oct. 20.

THREE SOLO SHOWS are also up at the Newport Art Museum, featuring the works of Renee Cox, Toots Zynsky, and Jordan Seaberry.

“Nanny Washing” from the series “Queen Nanny of The Maroons,” by Renee Cox. Courtesy of the Artist.

Renee Cox, who will be showing portraits in an exhibition titled “Revolution/Revelation,” is an acclaimed Jamaican-American artist and one of the most influential photographers working today. Her works celebrate Black womanhood and motherhood, identity and culture, and “by creating new narratives and tableaux, Cox’s works challenge historical stereotypes and counter the sexism and racism prevalent in Western Culture,” a practice she considers “flipping the script.” The exhibition — on view through March 2, 2025 — will feature a selection of her work in honor of her forty-year career as an artist and trailblazer.

Past/Present” showcases archival glass sculpture works alongside recent works by the world-renowned Toots Zynsky. Throughout her career, “Zynsky has expanded the expressive possibilities of glass, using her distinctive filet-de-verre technique to fuse thousands of glass threads to create subtle and unusual shades, hues, and patterns.” In her words, she is “painting with glass.” This exhibition — on view through Dec. 1 — will celebrate her unique contributions to this ancient medium.

And “We Live Until” will feature mixed media paintings by Jordan Seaberry. In collaboration with Dr. Sunita Puri, the program director of the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, the exhibition will relate the stories of patients in hospice care and explore “how we grieve, treat the dying, do (or do not) respect life and death and how these issues connect to larger political and cultural conversations about human rights and social justice.” Seaberry’s works began with interviews and were collaboratively designed with current hospice patients, exemplifying the communication that is essential for finding meaning, comfort, and agency over our treatment and support of the dying. The exhibit is on view through Nov. 10.

For more information about happenings at the museum, visit newportartmuseum.org.

ACROSS THE BAY at the Jamestown Arts Center, the summer exhibition is “PIVOT.” Curated by Karen Conway and Jeff Foye, it explores the way artists make pivots in their creative processes, whether through shifts in media, medium, formula, content or approaches to improvisation.

“Clockwork Carnival” by Christopher T. Terry.
Courtesy of the JAC

“This exhibition explores artworks that stand out from the bulk of an artist’s oeuvre, perhaps outside anyone’s expectations,” reads a description of the show. “Each of the 19 artists in the PIVOT exhibition have a distinct interpretation of what a ‘pivot’ might be in their own work.

“The artist’s contribution to the exhibition was determined through conversations about their practice and process as well as numerous studio visits. These artists are taking a risk to produce new work or revisit an aesthetic idea simmering in the studio that they haven’t had time or reason to realize. The sum of this exhibition is artists driven and surprising at every turn.”

The nineteen artists featured include: David Barnes, Lisa Barsumian, Alyn Carlson, Spencer Evans, Tom Deininger, Lesley Dill, Peter Diepenbrock, Bob Dilworth, Peter Flood, Brooke Erin Goldstein, Joan Hall, Martin Keen, Peter Marcus, Algernon Miller, Kelly Milukas, Didi Suydam, Eric Telefort, Christopher Terry and Bradley Wester.

“PIVOT” is on view through Sept. For more information, visit jamestownartcenter.org.

AND OVER AT the Bristol Art Museum, “Reflections of an Inner Life: The Art of Peter Strickman,” will be on view through July 20, followed by “Look Harder, See More,” on view from July 28 through Sept. 14.

Reflections of an Inner Life,” curated by Nancy Whipple Grinnell, features the work of Strickman, “an artist whose work encompasses the poetry of both the natural and spiritual worlds.” Strickman was born in Fall River and died in 2017. “With a deft hand and a discerning eye, he embraced a multitude of subjects and styles,” reads a description of the show. “His joyful landscapes are often a blur of verdant foliage and azure waterways. A darker mood emerges in the artist’s still life and figurative paintings.”

“Three Watchers for Three Musicians” by Elizabeth de Bethune. Courtesy of the Bristol Art Museum.

Look Harder, See More,” curated by Mary Dondero, offers an exploration of wide-ranging artistic expression, and features the work of Jesse Thompson, Stephen Fisher, M. Benjamin Herndon, Elizabeth de Bethune, Christopher T. Terry, Gilbert Travers, Denis Leonti and Rebecca Hutchinson.

“In a world often inundated with fleeting glances and surface-level observations, this exhibition encourages deeper engagement with all the artworks on display,” explains the curator. “From the hyper- realistic details that beckon closer inspection to the abstract forms that challenge perception, ‘Look Harder, See More’ prompts viewers to transcend the obvious and delve into the hidden depths of artistic vision.

“Within these varied approaches lies a common thread: the power of art to provoke thought, evoke emotion, and ignite imagination. As you navigate this exhibition, I encourage you to linger, to explore, and to allow yourself to be captivated by the stories woven into each artwork.”

For more information about these summer exhibitions, visit bristolartmuseum.org.

The herd at Rough Point. Photo by Corey Favino, Courtesy Elephant Family USA and Newport Restoration Foundation.