Yanti was "arrested" by rangers for invading a palm oil plantation in Sumatra and eating the seedlings. Now a resident of Bali's Elephant Safari Park, she took up painting in 2009.
Born in the mid 1980s, Yanti was caught at the edge of the forest in Pekan Baru, Sumatra where she was found eating seedlings on a palm oil plantation. The rangers "arrested" her in 2002 and brought her to the Minas Elephant Conservation Centre. On September 5, 2004, she was moved to Bali's Elephant Safari Park in Ubud Taro. There, the talented pachyderm began learning to paint in January of 2009, and has developed an exuberant style with decided vertical brushstrokes.
For centuries, elephants earned their keep by hauling trees for Asia's logging industry. Deforestation and logging restrictions led to massive unemployment for the elephants, with the result that many, dependent on keepers who could no longer afford to care for them, simply died of neglect. The Asian elephant population dwindled, and these magnificent animals became an endangered species.
In 1998, searching for new ways to raise rescue funds and worldwide public awareness, elephant expert and author Richard Lair, advisor to the royal Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC), conceived of a novel plan. He invited to Asia two media savvy, New York-based conceptual artists –Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid – to help him create a publicity campaign while training rescued Asian elephants to paint. Art Historian Mia Fineman traveled with Komar and Melamid to Asia, helping write "When Elephants Paint," a fascinating book about the venture. (The book notes that wild elephants naturally doodle on the ground with twigs and pebbles –a proclivity that might explain the ease with which they take to painting.)
Numerous elephants have since learned to paint in Asia, and hundreds if not thousands of news reports have brought the story of this endangered species to the world's attention.
During the painting sessions, the sanctuary elephants stand contentedly before easels, entertaining themselves by wrapping the tips of their trunks around artists' brushes, dipping those brushes into buckets of colorful paints, and then sweeping the paint up, down, and across paper canvases.
Some of the protégés of this fundraising project now rank among the most famous paintings elephants in the world. Their paintings, compared by some critics to the works of such renowned abstract expressionist artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline, have been exhibited internationally and have auctioned for thousands of dollars apiece at such august venues as Christie's.
In 2002, Novica offered to assist by featuring the Asian elephants' paintings online, making them more accessible to the general public. Since then, a new wave of media attention has again focused on the plight of the Asian elephant, and thousands more people have purchased paintings – helping raise considerable funds for two conservation center, one in Bali and one in Thailand.
Update: Novica asked elephant expert Richard Lair about the legitimacy of a much-talked-about 2008 elephant "self portrait" (the making of which, at a Thai elephant camp, was captured on video). Lair explained that the elephant's "mahout" (handler) clearly directed the painting, standing just off-camera, holding the elephant's "tush" (small, sensitive tusk) to carefully guide the elephant's trunk in precise flourishes, creating the sensational result.