Creative conservationist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Asher Jay, uses groundbreaking design, multimedia arts, literature, and lectures to inspire global action to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, advance environmental issues, and promote humanitarian causes. Albeit she received an education in Fashion Design and Marketing at Parsons the New School of Design in New York, she found her way back through the arts, to her primary passion in wildlife conservation.
A staunch supporter of animal welfare, wildlife conservation, and sustainable development, she found herself using her artistic prowess and writing to raise awareness through unique collaborations with scientists, nonprofits and other kindred change agents. Over the years she has produced several graphic campaigns, written many poems, stories and articles, pieced together numerous collections and canvases, and spoken at various conferences, academic institutions and private salons to evoke hope and action in favor of a wild future.
Through her extensive travels across the globe, and her studies in art history, she has developed an aesthetic sensibility that is an amalgam of contrasting cultural influences. All her work is anchored by the deep commitment she harbors toward the realization of a collective future.
Evermaven asked Asher:
EM: You have a super cool name, where did it come from?
AJ: My family tree has lost most of its branches to one form of cancer or another—it even claimed my dad five years ago. When we lost a really close family friend to the disease, I inherited the name. These experiences are why I live life like I am down to my last breath, because I know that every moment counts, and once it passes you by, it’s gone forever. Life can—as a continuous stream of moments—pass you by in a blink, unless you are aware and make the most of your time on earth. For me, knowing death has made me appreciate life more, it has made me want to live a bigger, more inclusive, loving life.
EM: Why do you choose to work as a “creative conservationist”?
AJ: I often get asked why I do what I do, why I care so extensively about the wild. Well, wild is an extension of us, it is a part of our past, present, and it should jolly well be a part of our future. Loss of wilderness areas and wildlife is the most important humanitarian concern of the 21st century. Our health is tied into wild health. Wild is present, it unfolds in a continuous stream of “now,” which anchors me to the breath at hand. Wild is full of magic and awe. Experiencing a true moment of connection with any wild creature, in its habitat, on its terms, is life changing and priceless. To fail to preserve such extraordinary encounters for the next generation would be irresponsible and inexcusable. So, I try to raise awareness, and sensitize those I can reach. I heart the call of the wild, I hear it always. The wild is my calling. The wild is an implicit part of who I am. It imbues me with unparalleled joy. It is a privilege to hold myself accountable to life at large, to wild in particular. We are but one form assumed by life, but life has found expression in such an incredible array of forms. We should rejoice our earth’s prolific biodiversity and bio-abundance. Always bear in mind, extinction is forever. What we destroy we can never recreate to the same level of complexity. So we ought not to take apart that which we can never reassemble. Do not take your impact, and ability to reduce that impact to protect wild for granted. What you do matters. Do better today than yesterday.
EM: Why do you choose to work as a visual communicator? And, more specifically, why do you use artwork as a communication tool?
AJ: The unique power of art is that it can transcend differences, connect with people on a visceral level, and compel action. Science, words, and stats are important, they are the building blocks of conservation, and they help us understand and relate to the world around us. However, visual imagery is the story, which allows for inter and intra-generational information transference. Visual imagery is one of the oldest forms of communication—it’s democratic and universal. It has both advanced our collective interests and instilled us with fear and distrust. Like anything else, it is but a tool and how we use it brands it with the kind of power it wields on its viewers. Ultimately everybody connects to a well told story, and a comprehensible, articulate picture offers a story in a glimpse. A truly remarkable image can contain multiple narratives within its composition, which can make it unbelievably influential. When people ask me what I do, I always say I create visual PR for the earth and all its inhabitants. Visual masterpieces—as stills, animations, or motion pictures—are weapons of mass construction; they can invoke change and seed a movement.
EM: You often make an obvious choice to link society to your work, why do you do this?
AJ: Art from any period should reflect the cultural, socio-political, ecological, and economical realities of that sliver of time, to not relate my creativity to global and local realities would implicate me as utterly ignorant, irresponsible, selfish, and frivolous. I can certainly do better than “art for art’s sake” because that doesn’t ground the art in actuality, which means the medium is not being harnessed effectively or efficiently to raise awareness or evoke action, rendering both the medium and the end product as just a wasteful expenditure of resources. We cannot afford to be oblivious of the finite world we live in anymore. What we do, and how we do it, should assume responsibility for the collective, as it invariably impacts the collective in one way or another. This includes, but is not limited to, artistic endeavors.
EM: Wildlife trafficking is a tough topic. How important is it to tell “emotional” stories about this issue?
AJ: Factually accurate stories are important, particularly when quoting numbers in front of audiences and media, about extant and defunct wildlife, as we live in an age where the spread of disinformation is more prevalent than the dissemination of hard data. I guess rumors have always traveled faster than the truth. Climate change is a truth of our times, those who deny it should be a minority, and action should be enabled irrespective of such an ill informed minority, as not taking action is to the detriment of all, yet that is not how our world leaders are addressing this crisis. The ignorant few, backed by money and power, fueled by greed and empowered by the oblivious are costing the collective a shot at a viable future. We don’t have to inhabit a post-apocalyptic world, as in Interstellar (the movie), yet we seem determined to embrace such a bleak future, by making one poor choice upon another in the present. However, change in attitude or behavior is seldom evoked by information or numbers, ultimately we are emotional beings, and need to experience epiphanies on a visceral and venous level, and for that to happen the information needs to be packaged as a story. A story that anyone, from any walk of life can relate to. So, I always resort to appealing to our humanity, because invariably, being a better person, being happy, or spiritually satiated is the aspirational gradient every individual secretly harbors. We may each have different wants, and disagree on the definition of needs, but in the end, we share a common craving for fulfillment and unity, through love. Through my efforts, I appeal to that deep need in humans, as that binds us through empathy, if not by evolution, to all life on earth.
EM: Tell us a little about your latest project?
AJ: I just finished a commission for Wyoming Untrapped, that was funded by a private donor, entitled “Let Bobcats Be”. The work speaks to the unbridled expression of wild in the beautiful state of Wyoming. Wild often gets compromised by human apathy and avarice. In Wyoming this is particularly true of the cruel, undiscerning practice of trapping without quotas or regulations, which results in unnecessary wild by-catch, loss of balance in an otherwise intricate, self-sustaining ecosystem, and the cumulative diminishment of bio-abundance and biodiversity in a given wilderness area. The problem is that we have time and again not learned when to stop, particularly when it concerns taking. We take as if these natural resources are infinite. It is not. Once a species is driven to extinction, it is erased from our collective reality forever. To take pleasure and pride in perpetuating death is a frightening disconnect harbored by many in the Anthropocene. It results in the devastation of capped natural assets for all, and deprives future generations from access to such wildlife and wild spaces. Given that wild is a part of our biological and evolutionary development, that it has been a part of our past, is a part of our present, it becomes our moral responsibility and ethical duty to protect these resources and life forms for future generations as well. People who take selfishly, at the cost of others, should be subject to prohibitory costs, fines and limits, to curtail their take, and not afforded subsidies instead with taxpayers dollars. There is a lot that is wrong with our current paradigm, but one of the largest gaps present in our understanding, is how to be conscientious custodians of a fragile, finite planet.
EM: What’s next for Asher?
AJ: I am working on numerous projects that pertain to the illicit trade in megafauna amongst other conservation crimes of this century. I’m speaking at various conferences, about the loss of biodiversity in the Anthropocene, the irreverent exploitation of furbearing animals, against plastic pollution etc… whilst also pulling a book together, and well if all things go according to plan, I will soon be the host of a TV show. I am also doing stand up comedy and improv, and soon want to start training to be a private pilot… a skill-set I know to be helpful in Africa, particularly in regards to aerial surveys. I say yes to life, and take every opportunity to learn and grow out of my previous shells and skins, because it is easy to flat-line on growth, and opt for a safer, more secure life, but that’s not what being an explorer is about. I also meditate, because it is important to center one’s self internally, before one begins to address the world beyond. If you are chaotic within, you perpetuate chaos in the world around, if you don’t love yourself, it becomes impossible to truly love another, if you are hurting, you hurt others… We shape the external world to mirror our internal landscape, so I have realized, in order to truly effect change, I need to start with me. I do a lot of self work, because I care for personal evolution. Self work, takes perseverance, as it is often painful and easier to avoid than address.
In reaching for our goals we aspire to pass knowledge on to others through the stories we tell and to nurture a community of collaborators who want to do the same. As a community we aspire to be the trusted experts – “mavens” – of change in our relationship with the living world. HIGHLIGHT draws attention to these community members that are exemplars of environmental communication. These interviews are published with the authors permission and in accordance to their own opinions. HIGHLIGHT is curated by Evermaven partner Neil Osborne.
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