Every animal has a story, just like us | Wunderkammer opens at the Manning Regional Art Gallery

Operation Foxtrot: Rod McRae with his collection of foxes made with red fox skins, steel, high density foam, glass and plastic and ready for installation.

Operation Foxtrot: Rod McRae with his collection of foxes made with red fox skins, steel, high density foam, glass and plastic and ready for installation.

The zebra stands tall, the bullet hole still visible on its skin.

It is the victim of an American big game hunter who killed him in Africa and had him mounted and shipped to his home in Montana where it took pride of place in his trophy room.

When the man was going through a divorce and needed money, he put his collection, including the zebra, up for sale.

“I bought the full-size zebra on eBay, as you do,” mused Rod McRae.

The zebra is a featured installation of the Sydney-based artist’s exhibition Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders, now showing at the Manning Regional Art Gallery.

It stands in a shipping crate with the doors open to allow the zebra to look out at the viewer. On the doors, white chalk on a blackboard lists the animals available to hunt, along with respective prices, and shows how easy it is to hunt and the consequences of the practice.

eBay find: This zebra was bought by Rod McRae from an American man who had killed the animal but sold it to raise money while going through a divorce.

eBay find: This zebra was bought by Rod McRae from an American man who had killed the animal but sold it to raise money while going through a divorce.

Every animal, just like humans, have their own story about the way they have lived and the way they have died.

“Some were through hunting, some were euthanased and some through old age,” said Rod.

“I hope that in their death their stories can have some conservation or environmental message that is both powerful and empathetic.”

Each work (there are 15) explores an animal ‘issue’ using real, preserved, animal bodies (taxidermy) to tell their stories, touching on different aspects of the human-animal relationship and asks us to examine our responsibilities as fellow travellers of this planet.

Rod has used taxidermy instead of other materials such as marble, faux fur or timber, stating that there is nothing more powerful than the real thing.

Sarah Crook and Keisha Mitchell view The End of Nature, where artist Rod McRae has combined plastic and bones and coloured them white to highlight the bleaching of the world's coral reefs as well as plastic waste pollution in the oceans.

Sarah Crook and Keisha Mitchell view The End of Nature, where artist Rod McRae has combined plastic and bones and coloured them white to highlight the bleaching of the world's coral reefs as well as plastic waste pollution in the oceans.

“People can look into their eyes and make their own minds up.

“These might be things people would normally sweep under the carpet. Hopefully people will be surprised, alarmed, excited and maybe tearful.”

All the animals in the exhibition have been ethically sourced, meaning they were not killed for the purpose of Rod’s art.

“I need to know the history of the animal. I want to tell it’s story but want to make sure it is not inadvertently harmed to make the work,” he said.

“It was important to know where the zebra came from.

“What’s particularly interesting about zebras is that they are incredibly inquisitive. 

“When you are hunting and you shoot at them they go running in different directions but after a while they come back to see what all the commotion is about. So hunters just have to wait.”

The exhibition allows people to look into the eyes of what once were living animals.

The exhibition allows people to look into the eyes of what once were living animals.

Rod said zebras and many other animals are commonly bred for the purpose of hunting.

“They are being bred for their skins for the interior design industry. A lot are bred for bush meat and canned hunting.”

Rod hopes his exhibition goes some way to redirecting the disconnect people have between the natural world and the human world.

With Baboon boy 2012, Rod McRae holds a mirror up to society and its behaviours towards the natural world. The baboon was another victim of the hunting trade. The hand mirror, which has the words, 'see no evil',  inscribed makes the statement that the act of turning a blind eye, to McRae, is as culpable as pulling the trigger.

With Baboon boy 2012, Rod McRae holds a mirror up to society and its behaviours towards the natural world. The baboon was another victim of the hunting trade. The hand mirror, which has the words, 'see no evil', inscribed makes the statement that the act of turning a blind eye, to McRae, is as culpable as pulling the trigger.

Acting director of the Manning Regional Art Gallery Rachel Piercy said she is excited to have the show in Taree, a show that she had seen herself at Sculpture by the Sea a few years ago.

“The show is incredible and I’m happy we have been able to stage the whole show.

“It’s mind-blowing and also challenging. It’s dealing with a lot of challenging issues...in a way we do need to be confronted.”

The exhibition has been shown in a variety of locations including psychiatric asylums, Big Tops, galleries and Victorian terraces.

It is one of two exhibitions Rod is touring, the other is called Afterlife: Animal Stories from Beyond the Grave and tells the different ways each animal dies.

Wunderkammer: The Cabinet of Wonders is open at the Manning Regional Art Gallery until November 13.

This mixed media piece is called Pacemakers and touches on issues of vivisection and animal experimentation and attempts to illustrate the intertwined relationship that exists between patients and doctor, researcher/scientist and animal.

This mixed media piece is called Pacemakers and touches on issues of vivisection and animal experimentation and attempts to illustrate the intertwined relationship that exists between patients and doctor, researcher/scientist and animal.

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