Our Burning Planet

REFLECTION

A disturbing journey into the human psyche and trophy hunting

A disturbing journey into the human psyche and trophy hunting
Role reversal: a lioness stands over the hunter. (Photo: Stephanie Klarmann)

Photographer and artist Roger Ballen’s latest exhibition The End of the Game is an immensely disturbing and provocative examination of the subjugation and commodification of wild animals through trophy hunting and captivity.

Mexican poet and academic Cesar Cruz said that “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”. 

As I step inside American artist Roger Ballen’s latest exhibition at the Inside Out Centre for the Arts in Rosebank, Johannesburg, a lion holding two human heads roars at me. I’m a little taken aback by the role reversal and remind myself that any critical examination of the human psyche and our relationship to the natural world is likely to elicit some uncomfortable feelings. 

“A central challenge in my career has been to locate the animal in the human being and the human being in the animal” says Ballen. 

I tell myself that stepping into this absurd world of grotesque taxidermied animals serves a necessary purpose: a critical reflection of the damage we cause to the natural environment and its inhabitants. 

Installations like these poignantly elicit discomfort at the very notion of such role reversal and force viewers to question the wanton killing of animals for sport and fun. Just maybe, it might evoke questions of what it’s like on the other end of a hunting rifle. 

Ballen’s aim, inspired by Peter Beard’s The End of the Game, is to question and to reflect on the destructive forces that have decimated wildlife populations across Africa through excessive consumptive use, poaching and trophy hunting since the advent of Western civilisation on the continent. 

A step up at whose cost? (Photo: Stephanie Klarmann)

Roger Ballen trophy hunting

A sense of needless domination permeates this installation as a serval lies with a gin trap around its leg and rope
around its neck. (Photo: Stephanie Klarmann)

Looking at the ragged, lifeless trophies on display made me realise what a futile and egotistical activity trophy hunting is – the animals look stricken, shrunken and less than majestic. Why would anyone want that on display as a showcase of some “conquest” into Africa? In what ways are the dead creatures a sight to behold compared with the beauty of their living beings?

Each installation elicits a visceral reaction as the intensity of the displayed animals increases with each step through the gallery. 

Ballen’s depictions of wild animals with rope haphazardly wrapped around their necks is a metaphorical deep dive into our human need to control, tame and break nature in our favour. 

The commercial captive wildlife industry, encompassing captive facilities, live trade and trade in body parts and derivatives, is a very literal example of how we chain and subjugate wildlife for gain and vanity. 

And while the installations offer a critique of hunting during bygone colonial times, trophy hunting and consumptive use still abounds today. 

While venturing through the gallery, Ballen spoke openly about the continued excessive consumption we all engage in – from trophy hunting to the very small ways in which we engage with the world. 

A portrayal of vanity as a gnarled leopard drapes the shoulders of a mannequin. (Photo: Stephanie Klarmann)

A cub and serval lay caged and tied down by rope next to a resting man. The cage and thick rope wrapped
around their necks create a disturbing scene of subjugation. (Photo: Stephanie Klarmann)

It was a stark reminder of how urgently we need to consciously and compassionately live within this world. 

Depictions of dominance, like rope wrapped around the neck, skins, horns and heads adorning walls. What are the solutions to the destruction we have wrought? 

If Ballen’s End of the Game is anything to go by, the first and most important step we can each take is to look inwards and reassess the ways in which we contribute to the exploitation of the natural world. 

We cannot recoil any longer at the discomfort this confrontation evokes within us. 

Without it this writer worries that we will continue along a path of destroying what we ultimately need for our well-being and survival. In many ways it is also not about the impact on us alone, but asking the uncomfortable question if we are at ease with destroying the natural world, something inherently beautiful, invaluable and unique in its own right.

Roger Ballen trophy hunting

Chained: in many ways this image captures the commercial captive predator industry’s exploitation of wildlife. (Photo: Stephanie Klarmann)

The human psyche is filled with complexities we can barely begin to quantify and understand in depth, but there is something in trophy hunting that continues to leave this writer personally perplexed, an enjoyment or sense of pleasure I can’t seem to grasp. 

The diminished presence of each animal on display deeply troubles me still – in what ways did they offer sportsmanship and pleasure to the shooters? Their empty glass eyes will remain with me long after viewing the exhibition. 

But that’s the impact of striking art. 

An inescapable feeling of having your mind exposed, evoking emotions we try so hard to keep in check. End of the Game is a striking exhibition and one well worth attending.

“Good art affects the psyche faster than you can blink”. DM

Roger Ballen’s End of the Game exhibition is on at the Inside Out Centre for the Arts in Rosebank, Johannesburg from 28 March 2024 and will run for the remainder of the year.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lucius Casca says:

    Another post-modernist garbage exhibition..save your money folks

  • John Nash says:

    A fascinating modern version of the old fairground freak show, described with an arty, post-rational narrative. Great fun.
    As humans, we have always used animals as a commodity – either directly or by removing them as a threat or because we use their land. We cannot live without consuming animals, even if it upsets trendy urban artists.
    In South Africa, hunting, trophy hunting, live sales and meat production (HLM) support 40 million acres of privately owned, almost natural habitat, upon which many millions of wild animals and billions of non-hunted plants and animals are conserved. It is an excellent use for SA’s dry land and a useful model for Africa.
    Consumption is inevitable either way – without the HLM, the land would be used for farming and ALL the wildlife would be cleared. Even Jo’burg was built where animals once roamed. Rosebank ate animals, too.
    In the meantime, please enjoy this exhibition of modern taxidermy, another way of consuming animals usefully. Artists need support, too.

    • Jeff Robinson says:

      You say: “As humans, we have always …. ” as if there is no possibility of our changing our ways. Again and again in history, we have realized the errors of our ways and divested ourselves of nefarious practices (e.g. slavery, burning witches, etc.) In those times, you can be sure that people brushed off their egregious behaviour with opening words like: “As humans, we have always …”

  • John Nash says:

    A fascinating modern version of the old fairground freak show, described with an arty, post-rational narrative. Great fun.
    As humans, we have always used animals as a commodity – either directly or by removing them as a threat or because we use their land. We cannot live without consuming animals, even if it upsets trendy urban artists.
    In South Africa, hunting, trophy hunting, live sales and meat production (HLM) support 40 million acres of privately owned, almost natural habitat, upon which many millions of wild animals and billions of non-hunted plants and animals are conserved. It is an excellent use for SA’s dry land and a useful model for Africa.
    Consumption is inevitable either way – without the HLM, the land would be used for farming and ALL the wildlife would be cleared. Even Jo’burg was built where animals once roamed. Rosebank ate animals, too.
    In the meantime, please enjoy this exhibition of modern taxidermy, another way of consuming animals usefully. Artists need support, too.

  • Luke S says:

    It’s a sad reality that our species constantly tries to justify it’s ever-increasing abuse of this finite planet’s resources, which inevitably leads to wild animal habitat loss and species extinction, more and more animals farmed for food, and worse (for example climate change).
    There are only 2 ways forward that I can see. Either we seriously change the way we do things, and make those big changes very quickly, or we stop and ask ourselves whether we all really need to create our own children, especially when there are millions of children without parents. It’s pretty selfish and egotistical really. But nobody ever tells this story, because capitalism is based on population growth, and reproduction is such a deep-seated instinct, manifested as emotion, that speaking of such things immediately triggers most of us. Most of the approximately 8 100 000 000 of us so far…

    • Jay van zyl says:

      Tell me, do you think if animals arent predated on, do they die of happy old age in a meadow? Or do your ideas ultimately lead to the extinction of animals because at the mere thought of suffering it would be better that they did not exist because then they would not suffer? Hyperbolic much? Yes.

      People anthropomorphising animals these days is so amusing to me, have you ever watched how lions toy with their prey? (Almost any big cat or cat in general enjoys sport) Should we do away with predators because they upset your moral framework? Ever seen how wild dogs disembowel animals and start eating them before they’ve died? How much suffering should herbivores endure before we end the predation done unto them? Well let’s remove the carnivores from the equation then, what then, now herbivore populations explode, leading to overgrazing and mass starvation, it would be better then not for them to exist at all.

      Hunting, at least ethical hunting, is an exercise in conservancy, if game farms could hunt lions and rhinos rest assured they wouldn’t be on the endangered species list for long, almost every game animal on offer is nowhere near the endangered species list thanks to the private hunting industry, many a species have been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to good old capitalism, these animals are kept in as good a condition as the season permits because at the end of the day better condition=better trophy, and managing this is in the interest of the farmer.

      • Luke S says:

        Are you replying to me? You don’t seem to have read what I said, and are replying to something else.
        Due to the growth of our population, we are making ever more species extinct. It’s in all our best interests (whatever they are) not to. Hunting may play a part in conserving only a handful of them.

  • Norman Sander says:

    I see the article also rails against hunting for consumptive use and the entire article suggests that humans basic instincts should be changed.
    I hope the anti hunting lobby realises if humans stop consuming meat, that cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens would become endangered species, as they would serve no useful purpose. In the world of “survival of the fittest” they would be predated to extinction.
    Also, in what way is an abattoir a more humane way of killing animals than hunting in the veldt. Anyone who has ever been to an abattoir would agree with me.
    As for the stuffed lion and the dead human posing, why did he come to a lion hunt with a pellet gun (I trust you will all realise this comment is tongue in cheek). I shoot 2 or 3 Springbok a year which supplies, our very healthy, meat needs for the year.
    While I personally do not understand trophy hunting, I do understand the revenue it brings to SA, which benefits taxes and in most cases, local poor communities with direct cash.
    While I agree humans need to take a quantum leap in how they care for the planet, nature and the beings living here, I realise in this crowded world every sentient being needs to make a contribution. So, I support hunting. People in modern society do not understand the natural world any longer.

    • Michele Rivarola says:

      I don’t hunt but I eat meat so I do understand hunting for food i.e. you east what you kill. That is what I do except that someone else does the killing. As regards to trophy hunting it is nothing less than the lowest of low ways of humans satisfying their blood lust in the absence of a war zone. I beg to ask what is the benefit of killing a rhino or an elephant or a lion or any other creature for no other purpose than satisfying personal basic instincts. I don’t buy into the excuses that it provides a living, many other things do yet we don’t willfully obliterate them. Life is precious, any life, and all life is precious if nothing else simply because we cannot recreate what we are so intent on destroying.

      • Jay van zyl says:

        On the point of life being precious, if that was the case then we shouldn’t allow carnivores to exist, in the interest of alleviating suffering all carnivores should be euthanized, tbf elephants can on occasion wantonly murder other animals so they should also be culled because they cause unnecessary suffering, baboons too as much as they are omnivores they aren’t averse to killing fawns and the you of others for a snack so they too should be extinguished, and you know what let’s just get it over with already, black rhino are also known to skewer anyone or anything they find if they woke up on the wrong side of the bed so it hurts to say but this wants murder should be done away with, they must be in totality removed.

        Ever noticed how a house cat tortures its prey, I imagine you have lots of cats so you would know, but because they are problematic they too should be.

        Life is precious to you but only because you are oblivious to it, death and suffering is a constant of nature and as much as we try to seperate ourselves from it (or at least as much as yuppies try to) the reality is these animals know only food suffering and then fortunately death, because there is no cute little death by old age in a meadow with a setting sun, no, these aged animals lose condition, and while they are starving to Death they get Violently picked off by any scavenger/predator looking for lunch, all this to say, keep living in fairy land where your hardest choice is what washing powder is best.

  • Psychologist Professor Geoff Beattie from Edge Hill University produced a short book entitled ‘Trophy Hunting: A Psychological Approach’, in which he speaks of the “dark triad” of personality characteristics common to those who for some reason choose to engage in this damaging and immoral activity. A summary of this work can be found at https://theconversation.com/psychology-of-trophy-hunting-why-some-people-kill-animals-for-sport-176277.

    • John Nash says:

      You should know, Dr markj – you commissioned the “book”. It is, in fact, a rant. For a balancing view, try my rather less gushing review of it search: A Myside Biased Perspective Country Squire Magazine

  • Absolutely Uneducated Artist Regarding Wildlife and Wildlife Management

    There is no way people can compare the past with today. The past since the settlers animals was just hunted for meat and skin at large numbers without any research or knowing how many numbers of a species exists.
    Today we more educated, more protected areas, better management of wildlife regardless hunting, trophy hunting or culling. Protected areas that are large enough that can sustain large predators, those predators manage most of the wildlife numbers in the protected area, but not all so there is still management needed to manage certain species that the predators does not manage and the predators so they dont explode in large numbers and kill everything in their path. Remember its a balance we need to find for sustainability. Small protected areas that cannot sustain large predators has to intense manage the wildlife otherwise the number explode and your start destroying the natural veld with over grazing/browsing and animals start to die and erosion starts on the land because there is no proper veld cover. This is where management comes in with game capture to relocate some species for new genetics for another protected area, hunting, culling and trophy hunting. All this is part of a management tool. All meat gets used regardless which method has been chosen. Its not just about hunting, trophy hunting…..its about management. Did you know that there is a protected area called MZCPE in Eastern Cape thats growing up to 1 million hectares? Unfortunately in life we need to manage everything in life and we have different management tools to make it possible. Culling, hunting, capture and trophy hunting is part of a management tool in wildlife. Without it we will do more damage then good.

  • Selma Richardson says:

    “When a child hurts animals, we fear mental health. When an adult with the capacity for reason, hurts animals, we call it ‘sport’ — Seth McFarlane.
    To add to this: there is no ethical way to kill an animal. Killing is killing, hunting or abattoir. Morally, what we do to animals is not OK. “Survival of the fittest” is also a last-century, caveman concept. We have to acknowledge that we need nature to survive. Destroy all life in the oceans, (which is what we are doing) and we will, ourselves, not survive. We are now evolved: us as humans can live without consuming animals — the scientific evidence is overwhelming and well published. Yes, you CAN get enough protein from plants.
    We are certainly in the privileged position that we have dominion over animals. But with privilege comes responsibility, and the way we are treating animals is irresponsible, causing immense destruction, apart from it being morally wrong. (It has also been proved that poor communities do NOT, in fact, benefit from hunting, only the governments and crooked politicians do. The poor communities continue to live in abject poverty, trophy hunting does not uplift them.)
    The planet can not support 8 billion people consuming meat — for every few steaks eaten in the West, a hungry child in a poor country dies of starvation. This is because poor nations export their grain to the West to feed livestock in wealthy countries. Globally we grow enough food (plants) to feed 10 billion people. However we feed the food to livestock instead of feeding it directly to humans. Then (some) humans eat the animals, others die of starvation.
    Approximately 45% of earth’s land is used to grow the crops to feed livestock. If we were to just eat the crops and plants, there would be enough food for everybody, and more to come.
    Animal agriculture is the #1 global cause of environmental destruction, land degradation, deforestation, ocean dead zones, species extinction, waste, and water scarcity.
    Watch ‘Cowspiracy’ the documentary. and see why the vegans are right, despite our addiction to meat and all our arguments that we are “entitled” to eat animals.

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