From April to May 2019, I spent a month in the Amazon jungle on an artist residency. I was based at Ambue Ari, one of three animal sanctuaries run by non-profit organisation CIWY in Bolivia. I spent my days drawing, being eaten by mosquitoes and helping to care for the variety of big cats, primates, exotic birds and many more animals – all victims of the illegal wildlife trade in South America. Unable to be released back into the wild, the sanctuary gives these animals as natural a life as possible in their native habitat. The sanctuary relies fully on volunteers and is not open to the general public. CIWY receives no government funding, but is the primary receiver of the illegal ex-pets, ex-circus and mistreated zoo cases in the country. Ambue Ari predominantly provides a safe haven for big cats – jaguars, pumas, ocelots and margays – as well as a menagerie of other species including macaws, coatis, howler monkeys and – my personal favourite – a tapir named Titus.
These sketches were drawn mostly from life out in the jungle amongst the heat and humidity, hence why they are a bit tatty and discoloured. A forthcoming exhibition at Walthamstow Wetlands scheduled for later in 2020 will showcase my experience in the jungle in greater detail – from more of these quick sketches drawn from life, to large-scale colourful paintings celebrating the diversity and unique personalities of the animals. My notes will share the stories of the animals and how they came to be rescued by the sanctuary, as well highlighting the dangers of illegal wildlife trafficking and the complications that come with re-releasing animals into the wild. A selection of prints will be available to purchase and all profits will be donated to CIWY. Watch this space for the new exhibition date!