Ben Reid: A Bird in the Hand
Ben Reid’s idea of experiencing paradise would be to have lived in New Zealand before the arrival of any other humans. Instead, his work expresses the many conflicting emotions he experiences when surveying the damage done by human habitation to this country’s fragile ecology. He knows that there is little time to waste. Already there are too many losses to mourn: not only spectacular birds like the much lamented Huia, but also unassuming species such as the Stead’s Bush Wren. Extinction is not the only inevitable fate for our endangered birds, we can create alternative scenarios. It was human intervention (with the help of willing foster parents in the shape of the tiny Tomtit) which brought about the miraculous rescue of the Black Robin, and the highly publicised, if halting recovery of the Kakapo population. This provides some reason for cautious celebration.
While recent conservation measures developed in New Zealand raise some hope, Reid reminds us that these efforts should never stop. Take for example the Brown Teal, the Hihi, the New Zealand Dotterel and the Chatham Island Taiko, none of them are household names, but all are endangered through habitat loss and predation. Living in New Zealand today, we have to shoulder collectively the task of becoming mindful stewards of all that remains of this country’s natural heritage. We cannot return to paradise, but we can become committed custodians of its former inhabitants. Reid’s delicate, elegantly structured and at times gently humorous prints are here to remind us of what is at stake: the unselfconscious grace and beauty of New Zealand’s indigenous birds and the way they enrich our world.