“Is it a hug? Or is it fatal? The big cat depicted in Ai Weiwei’s interpretation of the Tibetan tiger rug is lying on its back, facing up – a reflection of the traditional 19th-century woven wool design – its claws ready to swallow whoever stands on it. The AI considers the question. “I don’t want to I come up with this common idea, only the back shows the stripes… I see a tiger behind the rug. I see more about their posture and tail and all that stuff. I think he is funny and friendly. It’s like a hug.”
The Chinese artist and activist’s rug will be on display at Sotheby’s from November 24-29 and sell for £150,000, the closing of a charity project and exhibition, Tomorrow’s TigersSponsored by Artwise. It is part of the latest fundraising push for the WWF’s Tx2 campaign to double the wild tiger population by 2022. When the mission was launched in 2010, the tigers were on the verge of extinction. The numbers have dropped to 3,200, 95 percent less than 100 years old, due to poaching, the illegal tiger trade and habitat destruction. In July of this year, the IUCN Red List released an estimate of 4,500. The latest update is expected next year.
“We’re on the right track…but progress is fragile,” says Becky May, WWF’s Senior Program Adviser in Asia. “This year is key to getting a renewed commitment from governments to build on the successes seen in places like Nepal.” (The country has nearly tripled its wild tiger population to 355 individuals since 2009.) “It is a rare ray of hope for biodiversity that one of the world’s most ambitious conservation goals has reversed decades of decline.”
Ay says the tigers’ plight is “pathetic”. “If you look at human relationships with animals, you will realize that our society is committing suicide. We don’t know ourselves by not understanding other species… [We] You ask for a lot, you give a little.” By designing the rug, he says, “I hope to be able to do something for the tigers. The meaning of their existence is beyond our understanding.”
His design plays on the abstract patterns of the original Tibetan tiger rugs, of which there are only 200 left. They are a mystery, believed to have been created as symbols to protect the monks while meditating. “We loved the idea that we could make a contemporary version of the tiger protection that Tibetan monks thought protected them,” says Artwise’s Laura Colban. In 2019, she and Suzy Allen asked 10 artists, including Anish Kapoor, Rose Wiley, and Raqib Shaw, to create tiger carpets for a fundraiser; Ai’s is the latest solution to the project, along with a new version of Eight by Peter Doig.
Ai himself collects the Tibetan tiger rug and his own rug the design His “two intentions: the first is to carry the tradition. The second is to make it appreciated in the modern way.” To that end, the knits are coarse, 25 knots per inch, and the colors are natural – white and black undyed lamb’s wool, along with orange created using a combination of saffron, yellow larksber, and madder. It’s a restrained palette, Ai says, reflecting his creative process “to say no to many choices and temptations…to reduce those unnecessary temptations of so-called free choice.” The distinguishing difference of the rug is its square shape.
Inspired by this “accuracy in his point of view”, Matthew Bourne, co-owner of UK rug makers Christopher Farr, commissioned Afghan weavers to make the Ai rug, which was arranged through Turquoise Mountain, an NGO co-founded by King Charles and Rory Stewart (now run by Sushana Stewart, Rory’s wife) to preserve the country’s ancient skills and crafts. “You can feel the breeze around the carpet maker,” says Ai. “Obviously, this different scene gives energy.”
But he emphasizes that the rug should not be the focus. The focus must remain on the tigers. “Protecting endangered animals is a kind of self-love, without which we would all live in a wild land,” says Ai.
“Tigers are an apex predator. So when numbers go down, that has multiple associated effects,” says Mayo of the WWF. “By preserving tigers, we are also preserving some of the world’s richest people. Ecosystems. Protected forest landscapes for tigers store more carbon, on average, than other forests in the area. Tiger habitats overlap with nine globally important watersheds, which provide water for up to 830 million people. It also provides disaster risk reduction due to floods, tidal surges and landslides.” Notably, Pakistan is one of five countries where tigers are believed to be extinct. It is one of 15 (including India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Russia) that a new report considers Titled Restoring Asia’s Roar is part of the 1.7 million square kilometer tiger range restoration area.
Now the Global Tiger Restoration Program 2022-2034 is being launched. Already, in the Terai Arc region of Nepal, a planned railway is being rerouted to take it out of Chitwan National Park, home to hundreds of species including tigers. In India, swathes of National Highway 44, which runs through the Punch Tiger Reserve, have been lifted to ensure wildlife can move freely.
“Of course, the human race also struggles to survive, but the way to survive is not to exploit other species,” Aye, to the challenges of protecting both vulnerable human societies and animal groups. “It is very simple; the child will understand: you have to keep some places untouched.” Aye says the message for this project “must go out loud, like tigers,” and then – quite literally – roar. “The mountain is shaking and every animal listens to it.”