On a quest for endangered species through rural Japan
Since her graduation from the Rietveld Academie in 2000 the Dutch artist Charlotte Dumas (b. 1977) chose dogs, horses, tigers and wolves as the subjects of her photography. Although animals are a popular but not exactly artistic theme, the artist decided nonetheless to examine, research and portray these creatures as meticulously as possible. Behind these ‘quiet’ images nothing seems like it is. Stories evolve from every project Dumas undertakes. The close documentation of the different animals is just the result of this investigation. Usually placed centrally and monumentally in the photographs, the viewer sees a full focus on the animals’ stance and the softness and the nuances of color in their coats.
Dumas’ new series Work Horse is an ongoing project documenting and portraying rare native horse breeds in Japan. Started in November 2014 the artist travelled to the farthest corners of the country to observe and record 8 different breeds that are threatened with extinction: Yonaguni, Miyako, Kiso, Hokkaido, Misaki, Noma, Tokara and Tsushima. So far she only managed to document the first four.
Once used as working animals in farming and transportation, all of these breeds, except for the Hokkaido horses, are being employed less and less, therefore losing their economic purpose and right.
The need to maintain the breeds has vanished over the decades resulting in a vigorous decline, some of them even to critical levels. Dumas’ interest in the matter is her concern in the value and right to existence of these horses. Due to their rarity they have become symbolic for their surrounding and characterize the specific region. In a way it unlocks the history of the location and its inhabitants and the role these horses play in Japanese society.
The photographic series formed the focus of her solo exhibition ‘Work Horse’ at De Pont Museum for Contemporary Art in Tilburg in 2015-2016. An eponymous publication about the ongoing project is published by The Ice Plant Los Angeles in September 2015 and a 12-page photo essay on the Miyakojima and Yonaguni horses appeared in the December 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine.