Exhibition 1st-11th October 2015

Steps Gallery, 62 Lygon Street, Carlton, Victoria, Australia.


Presented by

Pamela Conder – Art 4 Orangutans


Rich Live 4 Red Apes

A collection of paintings, drawings and prints produced in collaboration with Melbourne Zoo’s six Sumatran Orangutans.

 This exhibition is not simply a collection of “novelty” pieces executed by apes. It is an exploration of the responses of human and non-human primate to colour, line and texture. It is a sharing of delight in this process.

The idea sprang from the keen interest shown by some orangutans over the many years I have been drawing them from life. In particular with Melbourne’s Kiani (Suma,) it became clear that she was able to recognize drawings of herself and preferred them to drawings of others. One day, being given a quickly sketched portrait of herself on the back of an envelope, Kiani carefully tore away all but the image, then sat intently tracing the outline of her face with an index finger.

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©Pamela Conder 2014

Highly skilled senior primate keeper and orangutan specialist Fleur Butcher has joined forces with me to make this project possible. With the enthusiastic participation of Melbourne Zoo’s six Sumatran orang-utans, it explores the field of ape aesthetics, enriching the lives of these intelligent, complex and inventive beings through art.

The orang-utans are allowed free choice of colour from an extensive palette and offered a variety of surfaces to paint on. In some cases brushes had to be specially adapted to make them ape-safe. I pre-paint some canvases and create textured surfaces on others. Sometimes a figure is drawn in as a starting point, sometimes the orangutans initiate the composition. They all show highly individual and harmonious senses of colour, brush work and preferred materials.

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 Photo credit: Maddi Chambers

 The prints have their origins in the orangutans’ charcoal drawings on paper, or graffiti drawn around their exhibit when given coloured chalks. I scan or photograph these, then develop them in the computer, printing them onto archival quality papers, sometimes adding collage to tell a story.

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©Pamela Conder 2015

Some pieces are figurative and tell the story of our shared history with apes, and the wildlife of Sumatra and Borneo. Some are purely abstract, whilst others use abstraction to tell the story of the forests, the animals that share them and the threats to orangutan survival.

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 ©Pamela Conder 2015

 The proceeds of sales from the exhibition will be donated to fund behavioural enrichment programmes and staff training at Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

 Keep watching this blog over the coming weeks to see the development of new works of art and hear stories of the orangutans.



  1. I have hundreds of obtarvesions of the Philadelphia Zoo’s orangutans (and a lot of them are recorded on video, too.) The obtarvesions I find most interesting are the interactions between Tua and Sugi. Even before baby Batu was born, their relationship was fascinating. And the relationship did not appear to change significantly since Batu was born. Sugi always seems to understand Tua’s temper tantrums, and to try to appease her in very gentle ways. I keep wondering if a more dominant male would put up with Tua’s sometimes irritable personality, Or if a more dominant male would whack her on the head whenever she started vocalizing and throwing things, or at least whenever she whacked him on the head! Of course, all these obtarvesions and behavior are unique to orangutans living in zoos. In the wild, Sugi and Tua would have lived apart, and Sugi’s rather gentle nature would probably have precluded him from being the father of Tua’s baby.

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