Homeless Koala" is the 3rd in the Homeless Wildlife series. Each artwork tells the unique story of the native Australian species and the challenges they face. The purpose of the artwork is to seek an emotional response from the viewer, by putting animals in more human-like homeless scenarios. Viewers then put themselves in the situation, to the extent where they may even picture their own children in the scene. The anthropomorphisation of the animals ensures that the artwork hits home, bringing social awareness of their plight in a way that has not been seen before.
In April 2021 I visited Koalas of Raymond Island (KORI) to photograph their rescue Koalas Alby, Harlow and Max. The volunteer team welcomed me to the island and Shelley Robinson shared the heart-wrenching stories of Koalas they have rescued on the island. Stories of hope and rehabilitation and stories of loss.
Shelley explained to me that on Raymond Island, one of the Koala's greatest predators are domestic dogs. I was introduced to Quinn who had suffered a dog attack on the island. Quinn was in great suffering and sadly didn't survive, despite the incredible care KORI provided him. Because Raymond Island has so many Koalas, they often graze on lower branches. Dogs off leads, even well-trained dogs, may see the Koalas as dangerous and in ignorance attack. Often owners are so mortified that they don't want to report the attack (or admit it was their dog) and the injured Koalas are left for dead. It was this understanding that lead me to integrate a very subtle scary dog under the bed. Not immediately noticeable but when it jumps out at you it causes a double-take. Incidentally, this dog is as placid as they come and well trained.
The owner is a rescuer in my own locality and brought the dog to my studio so that I could photograph and manipulate it to look vicious. The image of the dog is made up of multiple captures, including the owner holding up the jowls to show the teeth. I believe that this is an important part of the story because any dog, no matter how well trained, is at risk of attacking a Koala if off lead.
A more obvious challenge for Koalas in Australia are bushfires and loss of habitat. While this hasn't been a problem for those on Raymond Island in recent years, it certainly has been a nationwide disaster. The Bushfires of early 2020 killed many wildlife and rendered Koalas homeless. In this piece, the Koalas are sheltering in a run-down caravan while a bushfire rages outside.
A Koala's only source of food is gum leaves. Koalas are known to eat and sleep, eat and sleep. To humanise the situation of lost habitat, I created cans of gum leaves. In an apocalyptic movie scene, humans are shown rationing canned food to survive. In the same way, these Koalas are rationing their canned gum leaves.
Although I photographed 3 Koalas at Raymond Island, the story called for 4 Koalas, so I used two pictures of young Max in the piece. One where he had been cuddling his teddy (a way KORI transition young Koalas who have lost their mothers), and the other curled up in a tree sleeping. In the artwork, Max is faded on both the right and left-hand side due to the atmosphere and light in the caravan. Very sadly, Max got an infection and recently passed away. This artwork will forever immortalise Max.
Harlow and Alby play centre stage in this piece, unaware of the danger that lurks below them, they survive on canned gum leaves and look after each other as the fire rages outside. Alby, KORI's first Joey in care, holds onto a teddy, just like the teddys KORI use to transition the Koalas.
Pinned to the window is an article about the previous artworks Homeless Joey and Homeless Wombat. Continuity of the story through each of the artworks is the inclusion of a publication about the series. The social awareness aspect of the pieces is the primary purpose behind them so it's important to see that the stories are being told, and being shared.
Watch the Behind the Scenes Video
It was an honour to gift KORI with a canvas print of the piece and to set up an exhibit of the series at Albatross Studio and Gallery in Bairnsdale. It is my hope that this piece communicates new understanding with it's audience and helps Koala rescuers in the very important work they do to save this native Australian species.
Image Reveal hosted by Kelly of Albatross Photography and Design in Bairnsdale
Behind the Scenes Filming by Stuart Alsop
Behind the Scenes Photography Stuart Alsop and Victoria McKay
Dog model thanks to Annie
Caravan Scene thanks to Aussie Santa