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Thank you

Elisheva Biernoff

The year after graduating from college, I moved to a town of rice paddies and cypress forests in rural Japan to teach English.
I made a habit of walking alone in the evenings, past acres of buoyant green rice with unseen chorusing frogs, past stone Shinto deities with offerings of oranges and sake. This is how I encountered nature in Japan, not as something freewheeling and wild, but as something touched by humans, and sometimes gods. In Japan, the experience of nature seems ritualized; groves, mountains, and forests are cultural and religious sites, with clear access points and planned routes.

In this series, I consider this role of wilderness as something sacred and integrated in daily life, but also controlled, and often degraded. Sonzai shinai (Extinct) depicts three endangered Japanese animals on trompe-l’oeil painted postcards. Postcards serve to commemorate cultural highlights, and link home and abroad, nature and culture. By adopting this format, I honor the spiritual and cultural value of animals and habitats that will soon exist only in memory.

Sonzai shinai (Extinct) is a series of three miniature paintings depicting endangered animals from Japan. The two-sided acrylic paintings on thin, 1/32” plywood resemble vintage postcards. Loosely based on Art Nouveau postcards from the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Sonzai shinai incongruously combines cheerful decorative borders with somber content—in this case, portraits of animals that will soon exist only in memory.

Each of the painted postcards features a different endangered animal: the Tsushima leopard cat (found only on Tsushima island, between the central Japanese islands and Korea), the Amami rabbit (found on Amami Oshima, halfway between the islands of Okinawa and Kyüshü), and Pryer’s woodpecker (on Okinawa).  These isolated and declining populations are all threatened by continued habitat loss due to logging, agriculture, dams, and the construction of military and resort facilities.

For more information, visit Elisheva Biernoff's website or Eli Ridgway Gallery, or download her CV.