Asher Jay has a profound love for our planet. But what does this mean to her? And why does she feel so connected to every living being on earth? In the following exclusive interview, the powerful woman shares her thoughts with us. Enjoy reading it and learn more about why protecting wildlife is about protecting humanity too, about Asher Jay’s goals in the near future and why it is so important for her to help more brands and non-profit partners effectively towards delivering high impact efforts and truthful narratives to the masses.
Asher Jay is an international adventurer and public figure whose compelling paintings, sculptures, installations, animations, ad campaigns and films all have a single purpose: To incite global action on behalf of wildlife conservation.
Asher‘s travels to the frontline have made her witness and story-teller, combating illegal wildlife trafficking, promoting habitat sanctuaries and illuminating humanitarian emergencies. Her core message, again and again: Biodiversity loss during the Anthropocene – the Age of Man.
Asher harnesses the effective application of the arts to address simple disconnects that prevent individuals from understanding the complexity of the whole. Much of her best-known work spotlights the illegal ivory trade.
From big name brands like Prada, Biotherm & Adidas to well-known non-profit organizations like WWF, BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) and National Geographic Society, Asher, as interdisciplinary designer, is fluent in sensorially evocative visual discourse that transcends normative communication barriers.
Asher, how does your passion for wild inspire your work?
I have a profound love for the planet. When I recently saw the Dolomites covered in snow bathed by the light of a full moon I wondered how we could ever take such magnificent, irreplaceable beauty for granted. Every ridge is meticulously manufactured by deep time, through reactions both expected and spontaneous. Nothing we create will come close to the scale and diversity of expressions produced by our planet.
When I was a child, my mum told me: “If you want to grow up and be an artist, try not to get discouraged because nature will have done it better than you every time, in every way possible. You will spend your hours merely trying to capture or emulate its brilliance and falling short of the complexity of creation found in wild.”
Think about why and how an African Grey came to look so different from a bird of paradise, and why it evolved to have the colors it does. Doesn’t it just swaddle you in magic and poetry? How can we not do everything to protect things that introduce such awe into our lives?
Nature is perfection. It is the Mona Lisa. No matter how efficiently we can sequence genomes to recreate that which we have eradicated, we will never be able to create its ability to be complex yet simple, plural yet singular. We need to protect what remains of it, because once gone, it is gone forever, and it is invaluable. I try to coin unique partnerships, marketing outreach, illustrations, art and immersive creative experiences that will bring alive the urgency of our times as we both bring about and combat the sixth mass extinction.
Tell me about your upbringing.
My mum always says, “Oh I had nothing to do with this one, this was definitely raised by wolves” because our household was run by a pack of dogs, but also because I never fit into any kind of system or structure. I always got a secret rush out of not being identified as a boy or a girl, but as a genderless, non-human creature. At times one could define the autonomy given to me by my parents as neglect, but for better and worse the space they gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time with my own self, uncovering who I was and how I best found authentic expression.
I had a very free childhood where no identity or context was imposed on me. The greatest gift a parent can give a child is the freedom to discover one’s self in one’s own time, on one’s own terms. If I wanted to be a bat and suck my juice boxes down with my fangs, then my parents let me have at it: “Bats have no business in the house”, my mother would say. “Go be a bat in the back yard with the other bats. And don’t bite me or Leander (the dog)”. My mother would be watchful, never let me hurt myself but she seldom imposed definitions on me.
This has expanded my understanding of self. When I wake up, there is no limit to me, as I have no labels that separate me from anything on earth. I don’t think I am human. I don’t think I am a woman. I don’t experience labels until they are impressed upon me. The only time it happens is when I see how others perceive me. But those perceptions meld away the minute I leave their company. Mostly I am free and feral like a re-wilded Mustang. My personal freedom means nothing prevents me from feeling like a tree or a bird on any given day. I feel connected to every living being on earth.
I was also fortunate to have had parents who trusted me implicitly from the get go. When someone places that amount of trust and faith in you, you cannot help but behave with integrity and honor. Betrayal is one act I take utter issue with. Every time we poach or shoot a living being we betray the unconditional, unwavering trust they place on us as stewards of this life vessel, planet earth. How we are raised often comes to reflect in how we are able to show up for others and contexts greater than our own self.
How do people react to your work?
Protecting wildlife is about protecting humanity too. Protecting wild should never commence as an act against humanity. I always feel it is important to bring a personal dimension in my storytelling. Every time I talk about the wild I also talk about my personal journey and how I came to be me. A while back I gave a talk at a University and shared something about the loss of my dad. After my presentation people came to talk to me except one kid who was making eye contact but did not approach me. At the end I went to him and we started talking. He revealed his father had committed suicide a few weeks before and that he was still trying to work through his grief and pain. I gave him a hug and held him for a while. I listened, I told him what I had learned from loss and that I hoped for his own sake he would find a space to love and expand from again, despite the hurt and anger. Our internal landscape is reflected in the world around. We cannot help others, if we cannot resolve ourselves.
What does your camera help you uncover that a paintbrush does not?
A keen photographer who understands the subject can capture the essence or spirit and personality of the subject itself. Through a lens I am able to discover the true nature of living beings, as anything observed long enough, and carefully, begins to divulge its inimitable character. For instance, photographing the plight of indentured elephants in Thailand with Veterinarians International helped me focus beyond the enslaved species on the individual stories of specific elephants. We often blanket other living creatures as a non-specific plurality that is easy to emotionally disengage from, but when we truly look through a camera, we are compelled to pay attention to the details within the frame, and organically uncover individual thinking, feeling, and thriving souls. My favorite photographs of animals convey the soul of an individual creature, often evidenced in Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark captures or Nick Brandt’s poignant, reflective portraits.
At the end of the day, we are all individuals, with deeply personal, unique stories, unfolding in all shapes and sizes, coexisting on one planet as pulsating consciousness, presence and living biomass. It is important to see that whole, while knowing the significance of the parts that comprise it. Photography helps me delve past composition into consciousness, to convey presence in its rawest expression. Painting cannot do that. It can juxtapose, condense and contrast more content than a photograph ever can, but it cannot convey presence as starkly and vulnerably as real time capture of life as it is unfolding.
What role can art and creative communications play in the conservation movement?
Most art of our times is not true and fails to resonate with me as real art; as most of it is just self-aggrandizing, and lacking in intention, application and insight. It adulterates the very soul and spirit of genuine creativity, but I suppose art is always reflective of its times, and in that regard most of our contemporary art is as soulless as we have opted to be, sacrificing the natural abundance we have, to create an artificial abundance that never satisfies us.
The way we trade honest art of times gone by also shows our devaluation of art itself, we overprice it and hawk the same known masterpieces of movements and times past to flaunt and shuffle large sums of money around. It, like the natural world and our history, is now merely a commodity waiting to be traded by capitalism. The authentic appreciation and integration of a relevant canvas that captures our current reality, is less encountered in mainstream galleries, auction houses and art fairs. True art to me is produced from a space of connection, compassion, vulnerability and truth and in those regards is akin to nature.
Art is often referential of the awe experienced in nature, and almost every artist has painted landscapes or studied still life motifs from nature at some point in their career. For the purposes of this response I will refer to true art not the commercialized vacant sacrilegious consumptive regurgitations masquerading under the same label. True art, like nature has no boundaries; it is self-evident, intuitive, immediately assimilated and transformative. Art like nature is sensorial; it cannot be unseen, unfelt, unheard or un-known. Once encountered, true art leaves you feeling touched by something grander and greater, it evokes contemplation, connection and a visceral reengagement with life, which is otherwise only experienced in nature for me. If the artist is real, grounded and humble, then the art he or she produces will offer the feeling of expansion and stark honesty that nature does. It isn’t pretty, it does not pander, it is not finishing, but ever suspended in the process of becoming. Such art embodies the essence of creation itself and can be a great vehicle to communicate the triumphs, struggles, solutions and salvation of the conservation movement.
In my art I want to create a moment of spiritual introspection and emotional insight, that makes you as an individual connect to your whole story and context for being on this planet. You encompass everything that preceded you, why would you amputate yourself from such a rich lineage?
What is your current focus? What are your goals?
Thus far consumerism has come at the cost of the planet, and so long as economy thrives at the cost of ecology there is no sustainability or holistic awareness in the capitalistic framework. I am presently coining projects that aim to emulate the World Economic Forum’s underscored agenda of “Stakeholder Capitalism,” by bridging the gap between product development, company bottom line, consumer participation and environmental/social impact.
All the big brands can give back a whole lot more intuitively and overtly, than they presently do. They do not think things through effectively and bridge the obvious gaps in consumer consciousness between their brand identity, product outputs, their product cycle’s ecological and social footprint, and end consumer enrichment. The world would be a far better place if the market place were more conscientious, circular, and self-evident.
While previously brands were asked to become better storytellers and cut corners to enhance profit at the cost of people and planet, it has become increasingly apparent that this sort of unethical, unbridled capitalism is unsustainable and self-destructive. All current marketing outreach still anchors the distorted understanding of avaricious, ignorant consumerism as being advantageous to an individual’s wellbeing, when this is far from the truth. I am not opposed to brands being bottom line conscious, providing that bottom line is three dimensional and accounts for the resources tapped into and destroyed in order to create and cater demand for its existence. Most of the larger corporations striving to be “sustainable” are only adopting changes that do not negatively affects their shareholders, they aren’t taking the kinds of measures that will result in significant evolution and resolution, because real change is painful, i.e. it hurts a lot to transform from the known to what is currently unfamiliar. We cannot get there from here without making the necessary sacrifices, i.e. sans the sting of failures and losses, which includes hits to the profit margin that shareholders must shoulder out of integrity toward their corporate social responsibility.
My goal is to help more brands and non-profits partner effectively toward delivering high impact efforts and truthful narratives to the masses. It is time to stop marketing the notion of making a difference and start making an actual difference. Allowing consumers to feel a sense of engagement in social or ecological concerns without actually rallying them to do so is only going to spell humanity’s own undoing. I am very good at holding brands, stories and individuals accountable, because I do not let myself off the hook, and actively own both my shortcomings and my successes, so others may evolve their own engagement.
What is the most underrated value?
Responsibility. We confuse responsibility with burden. Responsibility is a privilege. We should begin by taking responsibility for ourselves, our words and our actions. Sadly, today we swipe left on it. We treat careers, human beings and everything as disposable commodities. JayZ even did a song called “On To The Next One”.
What is the most overrated value?
Growth. Our idea of growth has been not about personal evolution but about amassing wealth and physically occupying more space. Growth should not be at the expense of others. Growth needs to take into consideration collective wellbeing, because ultimately our wellbeing is dependent on the wellbeing of others and the planet.
What wisdom would you pass on to another?
Live a life so true and whole as to be able to let go of it in a moment’s notice without regret. Embrace death as an expression of life and you will be more vividly present for each moment at hand. To live well, give unconditionally, love unabashedly, be present, be authentic, breathe, help without judgment and never leave things unsaid or undone.
If there is one thing you want to achieve through this unusual and fabulous work you do, what it is?
Education. Empowerment. Raising our collective human consciousness. The fate and future of nature rests on each and every one of us. Let me make that more personal. The fate and future of nature and humanity rests on you. You get to shape the world we live in with every action you take. When your actions stem from awareness, it will breathe and breed more awareness in our world and the ripples will be positive, proactive and productive. When your actions stem from ignorance it will perpetuate the state of loss, doom, gloom, inner and outer erosion, and result in reactionary ripples that never solve the source of any problem paradigm.
So, make the responsible choice to wake your own self up before you try to wake up others. When you are awake you don’t come from a bias or an ego, you come from understanding and resolution. Awake or asleep, you determine whether wild has a place in our collective timeline, so choose wisely, to be present. Act like every decision matters, because it does. Countless lives are affected by and depend on your every choice. When you open your wallet, be conscious of how you spend your money, and what you buy. When you are awake, I don’t need to be saying the obvious to you, as it will be self-evident, when you are asleep no matter how many times I say the obvious you don’t hear me. Sometimes I don’t know whom I am addressing, but maybe the words will wake up those who are willing and able to awaken? Maybe?