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Our gorilla art collection honors the largest living primate in the whole wide world.
The gorilla's other distinction is that it's one of the six primates that comprise the very exclusive club of "Great Apes" that are so called because they are large-bodied, and they display some strikingly humanlike features and bahaviors.
I am not a natural scientist but I know that understanding the science behind a species helps an artist to remain faithful to the anatomical details of the subject.
Plus, the wider scientific context (such as a species' conservation status) lends new meaning to art pieces.
This is especially true of wildlife species such as gorillas that are wrestling with a dire existential threat as we speak. But more on that in a moment.
So onto the hard science now...
The gorilla family is divided into two species: the western gorilla and the eastern gorilla and four subspecies, all of which are critically endangered.
The western gorilla—which is now known to consist of two subspecies: western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the cross river gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)—was scientifically documented within the first half of the nineteenth century.
The eastern gorilla species would have to wait nearly six decades more and was only "discovered" in 1902 by German army officer-turned-explorer, Friedrich Robert von Beringe.
Beringe stumbled on, and sadly shot dead two of these gorillas as he attempted to climb the volcanic Virunga mountains in modern-day Rwanda...
Beringe then collected some of the gorillas' remains and sent to the Natural History Museum in Berlin for examination and documentation.
This "newly discovered" species was then named Gorilla beringei in his honor and is now commonly referred to as the eastern gorilla species.
Later, the eastern gorilla species was determined to comprise two subspecies: the eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) and the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei).
The mountain gorilla boasts the thickest fur of all the Great Apes. It also has a vast chest, muscular arms and large hands and feet.
Another gripping scientific fact is that gorillas share 98 percent of the human DNA!
Or to mitigate the human-centric bias inherent in the way I've framed that sentence, from a genetic perspective, humans and gorillas are about 98 percent identical.
Totally mind blowing that you came this close to...
Mountain gorillas live in central Africa's montane rainforests where succulent bamboo shoots—their delicacy—are in abundance.
These primates also eat fruits, tree bark and roots but absolutely no meat.
They are therefore herbivores for the most part although they may occasionally snack on termites, ants and even snails.
So because mountain gorillas are so rare, endangered and yet also—paradoxically—super strong, gorilla art is the darling of art collectors around the globe.
Yet despite being our close relatives—certainly from the genetic standpoint—all gorilla subspecies (including mountain gorillas) are on the precipice of extinction.
This is due to human-induced habitat destruction, protracted civil war which has invariably shifted government spending priorities away from wildlife protection, and poaching.
Mountain gorillas are critically endangered and according to the most recent census, only about 1,063 individuals are left in the wild.
That is far fewer than each of the Big Five that continue to confront well-publicized existential threats because they are sadly, runaway sport hunter favorites.
To paraphrase the old adage, if the gorilla art on this page really is worth a thousand words, then the heavy eyes and pursed lips of the mountain gorilla on the painting below are testament to the species' desperate situation.
Due to the factors cited above, the mountain gorilla's habitat has now shrunk to a 38.9 sq km (15 sq mile) area that straddles just 3 countries.
These are: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, Uganda, which also happens to be the birthplace of yours truly (these are distressing statistics though and I am hanging my head in shame at the decimation that is largely wrought by humankind).
They are called mountain gorillas for a reason; so tourists have to slog and hike through thick, "impenetrable" vegetation on pretty steep terrain to encounter these gentle giants.
Owing to their rarity, tourists pay top dollar for permits to track gorillas on foot as part of a rather regimented schedule designed to protect the remnants of these Great Apes...
Few African artists have truly mastered gorilla art and their pieces are bound to become priceless in the coming decades.
Besides providing a habitat for the mountain gorilla, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is renowned for its exceptional biodiversity as it's home to a beautiful array of butterflies, birds, ferns and tree species.
A nice bonus is the opportunity to hang out with the Batwa pygmy peoples. Want to put their diminutive stature in perspective?
An adult Twa man's height averages about 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in). The women are, not surprisingly, considerably shorter.
Although their forebears were forest dwellers, following government resettlement, the Batwa now live in the vicinity of the gorilla-inhabited national parks, eking out a meager living entertaining tourists and showcasing their culture.
I am glad that question is not addressed to me.
Because that would have been be a really tough question for me. I guess it is difficult for any conservationist-art collector worth their salt to play favorites especially when it comes to critically endangered species.
But popularity is a whole different animal (excuse the pun). Actually, looking at my sales stats, it's probably more a question of categories rather than popularity per se.
There seems to be this enduring fascination with baby gorilla, and silverback art.
Art of any baby animal is adorable and is a much sought-after category of African wildlife art.
Baby gorilla art, even more so. This is probably because they mimic their human counterparts and thereby evoke our inborn nurturing and protective instincts.
Take this semi-abstract cutie, for example...
Or its its more furry counterpart below...
How can you possibly not love the above two wide-eyed beauties?
Do you see the humanness, the playfulness, the innocence in their gleaming, beady, amber eyes? And I could use countless other adjectives...
I keep asking Hoods just how he is able to pull off such true-to-life eyes. He simply smiles. I take the point and back off—it's his secret sauce, I guess.
A female mountain gorilla which reaches sexual maturity at age 10, gives birth to a baby weighing 1.4 – 2 kilograms (2.2 – 4.4 lbs) after an 8.5-month gestation.
The infant gorillas are super furry to help them cope with the low temperatures in their high-altitude habitats.
And they cuddle up with their mums at night to keep warm when mountain temperatures dip even further. Sounds familiar, right?
What do you think of this piece of this impressionist silverback gorilla on all fours by Hoods Jjuuko?
"Silverback" is live portraiture which Hoods created at a gorilla naming ceremony called Kwita Izina in Kinyarwanda.
Scene? Virunga National Park in Rwanda, one of only three countries in the entire world where the mountain gorilla is making its final stand, as I indicated above.
It turns out, until they are 12 years old, each gorilla irrespective of its sex develops only black fur.
After that age though, sections of fur on each male gorilla's back and hips turn white, earning it the "silverback" appellation.
Silverbacks are especially fascinating because they are strong and big, and can weigh up to 500 lbs.
So whoever came up with the phrase "800-pound gorilla" didn't quite get the facts right.
It doesn't even come close!
A silverback gorilla is also a symbol of power as it occupies the coveted position at the apex of the family hierarchy.
Numbers don't lie!
Fact: With just a handful of individuals left in the wild, it is a lot easier to see any of the Big Five than the mountain gorilla.
This grim reality also, unfortunately, translates to the realm of art.
Only a few artists can truly depict the power, charisma, emotions but also the proportionality and vulnerability of this Great Ape.
So where we have torrents of other African wildlife art, gorilla art pieces only trickle in—even then, very occasionally.
So get yours before these pieces are all gone.
And before there are no gorillas left in the wild to serve as a point of reference for African artists.
Better yet, let your gorilla art piece be an ambassador for its sentient counterparts. And help make an urgent case for the very survival of the mountain gorilla as a subspecies. You owe it to them...
Because these Great Apes are charismatic and strong and intelligent and furry.
But even more important, because, besides these endearing characteristics, these primates have the inherent right to life; the right to exist.
Yes, while the aesthetic appeal of African art is important, we also need to conserve Mother Nature so that she can continue nurturing and providing the subjects.
And for this virtuous circle to continue for generations.