Meet an Advisory Board Member—Part 2: Steve Baker: After the Ark

Steve Baker is Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Central Lancashire in England. Since the 1990s, he’s worked as an artist and academic at the intersection of animals and or in art. His books, among which the latest is Artist/Animal, have been translated into several languages.

Baker is a leading voice in interrogating the aesthetic boundaries and conceptual strategies involved in producing art about animals. “It’s hardly surprising that contemporary artists are still fascinated by the cultural leverage of animal imagery and by its potential to astonish and unsettle,” he writes. He himself works “with the materials in my local environment, in a manner that I hope will speak recognizably to those in other environments. My current practice is largely photographic and is predominantly concerned with how to address the distinctive character and beauty of the woodlands, wetlands, and wildlife of rural Norfolk, along with its fine medieval heritage.”

Baker is unafraid to depict the destruction of nature and the often-devastating coexistence of humans and non-human animals, particularly where he lives. “Unfortunately, there’s an abundance of roadkill on its quiet country lanes. The photographic juxtapositions within each piece are constructed on the basis of some sort of visual ‘fit.’”

Baker, a two-time grantee, appreciates the role the Culture & Animals Foundation plays in sponsoring artists of many kinds who examine the human impact on animal life. “There is . . . a vital element of trust in the way in which CAF grants are awarded. It’s a recognition that [CAF co-founder] Nancy [Regan]’s vision of CAF’s ‘cultural activism’ will necessarily be a collective and a cumulative endeavor, with contributions from some unexpected quarters.”

Baker’s second CAF grant enabled him to showcase a six-photo installation, based on works from his series entitled “Roadside,” in a major animal-themed exhibition entitled Arche Noah: Über Tier und Mensch at the Museum Ostwall in Dortmund, Germany. The exhibit, which ran from November 2014 to April 2015, highlighted the destruction of nature and human–animal interdependence. Baker’s work accompanied paintings, videos, and physical installations from over a hundred other artists from Picasso to Mark Dion, with some taking humorous approaches and others designed to discomfort.

“That opportunity, and the CAF grant that enabled me to accept it, has given me a new confidence in my nascent art practice. I don’t know where it may lead, but I’m determined to pursue it, and I have CAF to thank for that,” he noted.

CAF is delighted to have Steve Baker on our advisory board. His contributions as an academic and artist reflect our twin approaches to thinking about our relationships with animals, and reframing our attitudes toward them. “That’s what the Culture & Animals Foundation does,” says Baker. “It gives people confidence, and hope, and recognition, and it trusts them to use those things in the best interest of animals.”

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