Prominent British artists have partnered with more than 500 museums across the United Kingdom to preserve the nation’s critically endangered biodiversity. The project, titled “The Wild Escape,” is one of the largest museum collaborations funded by Arts Council England, with participants including Yinka Shonibare, Heather Phillipson, Mark Wallinger, and FKA twigs.
“The Wild Escape” is aimed at the UK’s elementary school–age children, who are encouraged to create artworks inspired by the animals and flora imperiled by climate change; their animals will later be animated by the immersive games studio PRELOADED.
The project is staged by the UK charity Art Fund in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust, and English Heritage.
Veteran British artists have created original works for the project too.
Tahliah Debrett Barnett, the art pop polymath better known as FKA twigs, has imagined an (un)earthly self-portrait in which her likeness sprouts from and slithers alongside the UK’s wildlife. She’s fused to the body of a beetle and, elsewhere, a snake. The work, titled A self-portrait in Venus, through a two-fold screen, was inspired by The Rokeby Venus (1647) by Diego Velázquez, from the National Gallery in London, and the painting Two-fold Screen (1881) by 19th-century Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin, which belongs to the private Khalili Collections.
Speaking about her artwork to the PA news agency, twigs said, “It’s sort of a personal self-portrait to do with the world and fertility and eternity and questioning my legacy and whether I’ll have children and all of these things, and I’ve used the animals and the creatures to represent how I’m feeling.
“I love things that feel authentic and I love things that feel organic and wild, I consider myself a wild woman and a wild artist,” she added.
Turner Prize–winning artist Mark Wallinger created Fled is that Music, which is inspired by the totemic Romantic poem “Ode to a Nightingale” by the English writer John Keats. The nightingale, a vessel for Keats to consider the inevitability of oblivion, now faces extinction.
“Nightingales have now lost 93 percent of their numbers since the ’60s and are in danger on these shores. The idea that this small bird that inspired one of the greatest works in English literature (is threatened) is kind of devastating,” Wallinger said in a statement. “I’ve redacted 93 percent of the poem just to leave the final four-and-a-half lines where the nightingale disappears.”
Elsewhere, the artist Es Devlin etched an image of the Phoenix fly, another native UK species facing extinction. The work was inspired by the early field studies of British scientists, who captured their discoveries in quick sketches.
“The Wild Escape” was developed in response to the Natural History Museum’s publication of the Biodiversity Trends Explorer report in 2021, which stated that the UK has lost nearly half its ecosystem since the 1970s due to land development. The study found that a quarter of the UK’s mammals and around a fifth of its plants are endangered.
Jenny Waldman, director of the Art Fund, said in a statement, “The Wild Escape is a first. We want to show how museums, by working together can bring a fresh angle to learning, especially to welcome children’s creative responses to our great collections. We want every child to learn from and enjoy what museums can offer whilst at the same time drawing attention to the threat of biodiversity loss in this country, one of the defining challenges of our lives.”