Artist and activist Asher Jay uses creative concepts and striking designs to underscore the dire consequences of wildlife trafficking in her fight against the illegal trade.
Creative conservationist Asher Jay is a designer, artist, writer, and activist who uses creative concepts and design to advance animal rights, sustainable development, and humanitarian causes. Her art, sculpture, design installations, films, and advocacy advertising campaigns bring attention to everything from oil spills and dolphin slaughters to shrinking lion populations. Much of her best known work spotlights the illegal ivory trade, including a huge animated billboard in Times Square and an ambitious project aimed at China's ivory-hungry rising middle class. She participated in the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in New York, where her oval oeuvre went on to raise money for anti-poaching efforts in Amboseli, Kenya. Upcoming projects will tackle biodiversity loss during the Anthropocene and expose threats to the world's most traded and endangered mega fauna. "The power of art is that it can transcend differences, connect with people on a visceral level, and compel action," she says.
Where were you born?
Born in India; raised by the world; albeit my mom maintains I was raised by wolves
Where do you currently live?
New York City
How did you get started in your field of work?
I have always been passionate about wildlife and the preservation of biodiversity. When I was younger I harbored a deep fascination for the outdoors and spent most of my time in its ever embracing expanse, and irrespective of the country I lived in, I always brought fauna in need of rescue and/or rehabilitation back home with me. My mother promoted that every being had an equal right to be, a truth that is now inherent to my configuration. Compassion and coexistence have been an implicit part of my upbringing and education, as I grew up with all things wild as my kith and kin.
I used to do a lot of volunteer work as a child, especially during my summer and winter breaks, but I guess I made a career of it shortly after the BP oil spill happened in the Gulf. I think that was when I realized this particular path was more than a profession, it was my purpose on this planet! I love the wild, and when you care about something through and through, it becomes your privilege and responsibility to act out of awareness to protect it for future generations. It is now second nature to me, and I don't even perceive it as work, it is all an act of love and I have such a lot of fun doing what I do!
What has been your most challenging, rewarding, or memorable experience in your field?
Sleeping in a tent in Barafu, with lions circling around me all night. Nothing beats almost ending up as meat on feet to a pride of proficient predators. That experience taught me to be mindful and connect to life even in moments shadowed by the possibility of death. Nature is an ever engaging tutor, and the learning never stops when you are receptive and present. The most challenging moments in the field have invariably involved being on the menu to swarms of tsetse flies.
What's a normal work day like for you?
Anything from strategizing new campaigns and illustrating field manuals to raising awareness through lectures and public art installations! I never know what's next for me, and I will do whatever it takes to save what remains of my first love, the wild! If it means I have to learn to tap dance tomorrow, I'll be learning how to do that.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You lived well, and I'm still rocking it out for you, girl! I've got your back, and nothing you did has set me back.
If you could have people do one thing to help save planet Earth, what would it be?
If I could have people do one thing to help save planet Earth's incredible array of biodiversity, it would be this: take a step outside your home, your life, and yourself and spend five minutes observing and listening to any living being that isn't human. It can be a tree, an insect, a bird. Connect to it fully, allow yourself to be a bug, a bird, or a tree in that minute. If you can see a bug in you and you in that bug, you will do something different tomorrow that you haven't done thus far!