We Are People is, at its heart, a campaign based on the art of Elephantman, aimed at changing perceptions of what constitutes a person.
What at first glance might seem ridiculous to many, in fact opens up a whole minefield of ethical conundrums and inconsistencies when examined more closely. What is a person? the Oxford English Dictionary tells us it is a ‘human being regarded as an individual’; but not so long ago a woman was not a ‘person’ in legal terms, while some corporations are counted as persons. Slaves were not counted as persons, but were certainly human.
Is it intelligence that makes a person? Why, for example is it fine to breed a pig merely to kill and eat it, but it is not OK in most places in the world to do this to a dog? It has been amply demonstrated that pigs and dogs have similar levels of intelligence.
Indeed, according to the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, there is no discernable difference between human consciousness, or sense of self and that of other creatures. Anyone who spends time with animals knows this to be true.
What is clear is that the definition of a person has changed over time, and I believe we will see a time when non-humans are included within the scope of the term.
So what is the plan for Elephantman?
Elephants are much loved animals whose intelligence, cultural memory and sense of family, love and grief have been witnessed and documented. The sculptor Elephantman has only ever made elephants and so it is a natural fit for him to direct his energies to helping the grave situation facing elephant populations around the world. The idea is that if we can get the public consciousness to accept elephants as ‘people’ then perhaps it will open the door for other species as well as helping to preserve the habitats for those that share space with elephants.
The plan involves an installation of 30,000 elephant sculptures of earth mixed with resin, made by young people in the countries where the bulk of ivory ends up being sold. This installation will involves as many as 100,000 young people in its production, and travel around the far east, and eventually the world. Everybody involved in the project will form an opinion about the ivory trade, where once they might have been indifferent. The many thousands who see the installation might also be influenced.
Public opinion can change very rapidly when an idea reaches critical mass and the aim of this project is to make public opinion change before it is too late. Fifty years ago it was not uncommon in the UK to see a foot stool made out of an elephant’s foot. This has been considered gross for so long that they have not been seen for many years. It is hoped that one day people will feel the same disgust when they see ivory ornaments because they will see them for what they are: ornaments carved from dead people’s teeth.
You can see a detailed pdf or the proposed project by clicking here.