GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new kind of art is on display in Grand Rapids as part of ArtPrize 2021, something the artist calls “taxigami.”
Taxigami is not an official art form but rather something that Aerick Burton of Kalamazoo created himself.
“Basically, taxigami is a meld between taxidermy and origami,” Burton said. “It uses a lot of paper sculpturing and floral accents as well. For me, it’s to honor and show homage to different animal species.”
Burton created a three-dimensional installation of 10 pieces featuring vulnerable animals.
The first piece he started working on was the Sumatran elephant.
“Elephants have always been an animal I have been really drawn to and really loved … there are quite a few species that are in danger of being almost eradicated,” Burton said, adding that he doesn’t think people should have contact with these particular animals.
Burton pointed out that even sanctuaries — with the goal of protecting elephants — may take harmful actions that include letting people ride them.
“From the outside in, it doesn’t seem as harmful, but in a lot of cases conservation would be letting animals live in their environment without our interaction,” he said.
Trophy hunting is still permitted in many areas of Africa, with hunters paying thousands of dollars for help to kill an elephant and put its head on their wall. Burton hopes his paper elephant head will make people think about that reality for wildlife that is often endangered.
“I’m just really hoping that I can not only raise awareness with these pieces, but really make an impact and a tangible contribution to protecting vulnerable lives,” Burton said.
Trying to protect vulnerable lives is not new for Burton. He has spent a lot of time working for social justice as part of the Black Lives Matter movement in Kalamazoo, using his designs on stickers, T-shirts and other apparel.
“I think it’s all related. I think that we, as humans, certainly humans moreso, feel that we are above everything and that everything has been put here for our consumption. I feel we should all just be living together,” he said. “We can really grow and learn from a lot of things that we see and experience.”
Burton sees the gentle strength in elephants as one way to accomplish that.
“I do see the power in voice and organizing, bringing people together,” he said. “I feel I have been able to utilize that in a lot of ways but my preference is … through art.”
Burton entered the 2018 ArtPrize competition as well, with a 3D piece featuring a four-foot-tall bonsai tree, wrapped continuously with wire to create a textured trunk, with hundreds of origami butterflies filling the branches.
He was disappointed with the cancellation of the competition in 2020 due to the pandemic but has spent the last couple of years working on these 10 pieces.