Phoolkali: The elephant who paints

Phoolkali, a female elephant who was rescued from her abusive employer and rehabilitated at an animal shelter in Mathura Agra is now happy enough to paint!

New Delhi: Phoolkali, a female elephant who was rescued from her abusive employer and rehabilitated at an animal shelter in Mathura Agra is now happy enough to paint!

Prints made by Phoolkali on canvas using her feet are now part of a selling art exhibition being held in the city with works being priced between Rs 9,000 to as much as Rs 1.5 lakh.

Proceeds from the sale of the show titled "Ganpati to Gajah" would go to elephant conservation in India as well as to the non governmental organisation Wildlife SOS, which is engaged in rescuing and rehabilitating animals.
"Phoolkali is a very gentle elephant. She is nearly 50 years years old and blind in one eye. She was used for begging and for various shaadi-baarat (wedding) processions by her previous owner. It took us a year and a half to condition her and build her trust for humans," says Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan.

Satyanaryan says his team found Phoolkali in an windowless abandoned warehouse tied up in chains in 2012. Vets and various animal handlers worked with Phoolkali for some time and "she soon began accepting bananas and other treats given to her," says Satyanaryan.
Singapore-based artist Alpana Ahuja, who has been creating paintings based on Ganesha the elephant god teamed up with the wildlife NGO last year to work on their annual calendar.

"After that project we decided to do something else. That was the beginning of the Padchin (Footprints) series," says the artist.

Working with Phoolkali, teaching her how to play with colour, says Ahuja, is time consuming and requires a lot of patience. "She has to be given frequent treats like bananas and sugarcane," says the artist.

"In the beginning we started spending time with her and her mahout. Slowly and slowly she accepted us, I must say here that she is moody. However, then we used to put colours on her feet and now see how beautifully she does it," says Ahuja.

The artist says she first prepares the bases, makes a film of the prints made by Phoolkali and then places the prints on the canvas.

"I am passionate about animals and have been working for their various causes. This exhibition is my first solo in Delhi but I have previously created special art pieces in Singapore. The artworks from `Padchin` series were showcased there earlier this year," says Ahuja. The series is a mix of works created by Ahuja and the elephant Phoolkali.

Kartick Satyanarayan recalls how he had come to know about Phoolkali.

"When our team spotted her first she was in a very bad and neglected condition. We approached her owner and offered him money in exchange of the elephant. He was hesitant initially but accepted it. When we returned a few days later both the owner and the elephant were missing." says Satyanarayan.

Finally he says Phoolkali was discovered in a warehouse next to the Agra-Mathura highway.

"Phoolkali did not know any kindness from humans. Now she is adjusting and has even made friends with other elephants at Elephant Care and Conservation Centre in Mathura. Phoolkali`s best friend is Maya, who often plays with her by throwing mud and water," says Satyanarayan.

Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi who inaugurated the exhibition last Friday says, "Elephants are as endangered as the tigers, we need to set up more elephant sanctuaries and save them."

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