Kelsey Merreck Wagner

What was the inspiration behind your artwork?

Throughout my career, I have used art to advocate for sustainability, habitats, animals, and the communities who live with them, especially as related to a lack of female decision-making opportunities, positions of power, and the ability to act. It is at the intersection of creativity and environmental anthropology that I negotiate a new ethics of care that embraces and celebrates all of our interactions on our one and only planet. Both elephants and humans originated in Africa; they have roamed the earth together for nearly 200,000 years. Elephants and humans share a mutual ecology shaped by limited resources and entangled structures of power. Across Southeast Asia and Africa, communities are experiencing human-elephant conflict, contributing to a major decline in elephant populations and growing anger from their human counterparts. Of critical importance is the role of women in the protection and conservation of elephants, which can lead to female empowerment and employment. As a gendered division of labor places women in close contact with elephants, we see the interactions of two matriarchies struggling to provide for and protect their families, which inspired this work.

What do you see as the similarity between science and art? Why is science-art important in today's society?

Art is an essential part of cultural expression and aesthetics, and when used with concepts from ecology and biology, it is also valuable in its ability to reach a wider audience who can access and understand the concepts, while also sparking discussions about social and environmental justice, and how to attend to these issues. This linkage between art and science draws upon multiple ideologies to form common strands where people can connect. By bringing disparate groups into conversation with each other, society benefits from the celebration of natural and cultural heritage, which creates opportunities for education, awareness and advocacy. For example, many of us grew up (and continue) attending exhibits and installations in natural history museums, where access to a multiplicity of knowledges and experiences inspires our own lives and work. It is my hope that scientists and artists will continue to work together and blur the lines between each discipline to address common issues.

Get to know the artist!

Kelsey Merreck Wagner is a painter/printmaker/textile artist whose work is situated at the intersections of aesthetics, human consumption and environmental justice. She is a second-year PhD student in the MSU Anthropology department with certificates in Human Animal Studies and Gender, Justice and Environmental Change. Her academic research focuses on improving human-elephant conflict in Southeast Asia.

Get in touch!

Follow Kelsey on Instagram: @kelseymerreckwagner

Behind the scenes