The Creation Story

by Shubhra Nayar, Lead Designer at The Real Elephant Collective

In summer 2015, Ruth Ganesh and Tarsh Thekaekara met in the offices of the Elephant Family.

Ideas brewed out of the melting pot and Ruth’s  vision of 100 life-size elephants was united with Tarsh’s work with elephants and the invasive weed Lantana camara. Identical replicas of 100 wild elephants from the forests of South India ,made from lantana would enter cities across the world and raise funds for their wild counterparts.  

The collaborators – The Shola Trust on Research and The Real Elephant Collective (TREC) on Creatives – saw the dream turned to reality, and a few months later the first prototype of a life-size lantana elephant took form in the Nilgiri Hills of South India.  

For Shubhra, designer at The Real Elephant Collective, drawing large-scale is a way of life, and what is bigger than an elephant! Several life-size drawings and heated discussions between Shubhra and Tarsh, over how best to extrapolate an inner structure to capture the nuances of musculature and skeleton, resulted in detailed diagrams that would evolve over the construction of the entire herd.  

Ranjini Janaki of the Bettakurumba tribe, with her double MA and her invaluable commitment has bridged the design and the production of every one of the 100 elephants, wearing several hats with panache.  

The woody, tough and stubborn barks of the lantana plant simply melted and gave in to the expert artisanry/craftsmanship of Kutty, who made them flow over the metal elephant forms with a grace that brought out every sinew and fibre of the original elephants’ body.  

In 2017 the artisan team grew to a 70-strong team of local indigenous people, Subhash Gautam inspired them everyday into a surprising commitment towards the 100-elephant herd. Beauty unfolded in their hands, complete with their inherent knowledge of elephant forms that only they could have brought, with their daily interactions with wild elephants around their homes and in their living history.  

Ruth and Tarsh remained the incredible energy and vision that powered the TREC team frequently, through in-depth discussions under the stars and amidst forest sounds.  

As the grand forms evolved, Shubhra hand-painted every eye for authenticity. Tariq, a film-maker by profession with an incredible eye for detail, came in to apply magical finishing touches – the setting of the eyes, the tail, nails, the gorgeous ears and the outer protective layer and all the inner mechanisms that have facilitated public exhibition and transport of the elephants.  

Behind the creation of this herd, going with it and beyond it, are the stories of coexistence that the TREC team live with daily. Taking these stories to a world rife with strife where ever-extending boundaries have become a way of life and security, these elephants and the people who share space with them live lives of negotiation. This goes a long way to rekindling hope that communication and community offer a sustainable path to security and peace.