Saturday, August 30, 2014

Chimp photo represents plight of apes in entertainment

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.  --Aristotle
Art4Apes is holding its 2nd annual ENDANGERED Art& Photography contest, to benefit the wonderful Center for Great Apes. I’m not an artist, but I have a couple of the photographs that my father took with his Kodak camera back in 1950, when he was a chimp trainer at the Detroit Zoo. Even though I am not eligible to compete for the money prize (since I am not the photographer), the organizers were kind enough to accept the photo. I believe it represents the plight of apes in entertainment.

Jo was one of more than a hundred chimps who were stolen from murdered mothers' arms in Africa, destined for short entertainment careers with the Detroit Zoo’s long-running Chimp Show. The trainers would use violent techniques – pinching, slapping, and punching – to show the chimpanzees "who was boss." Jo Mendi II was that era's only chimpanzee to remain at the Detroit Zoo beyond the first seven or eight years of cuteness. Most of the others were dumped into research or breeding facilities.

Dad was one of the trainers who abused the chimps. He was fired when he finally went too far and threw a young chimpanzee against the wall. It seems fitting, then, to use Dad’s photo of Jo ‒ showing the anthropomorphic costume, the gray desolation, and the shadows of the bars ‒ to educate people about the abuse and exploitation of these marvelous chimpanzees.

The Detroit Zoo stopped putting clothes on its chimps in the mid-1980s. The Chimp Shows stopped. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by Leonardo DiCaprio's despicable use of a chimp in a recent movie, the exploitation of apes in entertainment continues today.    

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot for donating this iconic picture that's a graphic and symbolic representation of the abuse this species has been subjected to. Sharing your dad's story means a lot.