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Tiburón, 2014-2015
Five panels, oil on wood; 54" x 122"; sound element

I can’t stop pointing to the beauty
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

Tiburón speaks of the great white shark and its potential disappearance due to human impact. It invites the viewer to reflect on what we value, and what we fear, and why. My intention is neither to romanticize nor to demonize sharks, but rather to underline the primitive, obscure beauty of this irreplaceable species.

The installation includes a painting on five vertical panels, as well as a sound element. The painting, done in oil on wood, measures approximately 4.5 x 10 feet (143 x 346 cm). Its panels are rendered to suggest the passage from day to night. A great white shark crosses the panels from right to left. Several strange shapes – shark eggs – float at the midpoint. The shark’s gaze, ancient and all knowing, seems to follow us around the room. The wall behind the painting is deep black. A bench for contemplation is placed in front of the work. A traditional gospel song, triggered by a motion sensor, fades in as the viewer enters the room, evoking an atmosphere of compassion and a sentiment of loss.

Born in California, I grew up near the sea. I surfed in the Pacific Ocean, in the white shark’s migration corridor, and snorkeled in the Sea of Cortez, in the cradle of the hammerhead shark. I was intimidated and sometimes frightened by the possibility of sharks in the water. Now what scares me is their potential absence from this earth, their disappearance. Sharks rarely attack humans, but humans continue to kill sharks in outrageous numbers through unregulated finning, bycatch and trophy hunting. Like so many of our grand predators, diverse estimates point to a population decline of 60% to 90% in the last 50 years.

I continue to meet people who admit to being terrified of sharks, most often as a result of the film Jaws and "man-eating shark" documentaries. This suggests to what extent popular culture can affect our awareness, and is what provoked me to try to counterbalance prevailing thought with an atypical point of view. With Tiburón (Spanish for shark), I offer a second look at this iconic creature, in all its beauty and its peril.

Sharks are ancient beings. They have roamed the oceans in one form or another since the Jurassic period. They have very few offspring and they reproduce slowly. Two questions remain: will they be able to survive our own lifetime? And if not, what will we do when they are gone?

© Anne Ashton 2011-2022