Why the elephant?
Generally: The artist uses an alter ego – Toto the Elephant – to remove himself from the narrative. Removal of oneself allows for more vulnerability, more objectivity, more room for the artist’s subjects to speak on their own.
Specifically: Elephants captured as babies for entertainment are tied with ropes and chains to prevent them from escaping. As they grow larger and are able to physically break free, they do not attempt to escape; they have become accustomed to their captivity, mentally tied though no longer physically tied. They were programmed from birth to believe they could not escape—to believe they were confined to a life within certain limits.
The artist uses the elephant as a means to express himself without limits, to inhabit the work beyond his own physical body’s constraints. And like an elephant, the work of the artist is large-scale, difficult to ignore. The medium is oil or acrylic, the compositions figurative, the colors bright and expressive.
As a Cuban-Guatemalan artist in a white-dominated space, the artist focuses on stories of people of color. The artist lets each person’s story lead the artistic process in the same way the story of the elephant leads his artistic process. Other times, the artist will rework stories originally meant for a white audience, re-directing the narrative towards and about people of color.
He enjoys going into Latino communities to paint murals or into schools to run workshops and art education, and to help provide art supplies where they are needed. The baby elephants were forever negatively affected by their environments, and so the artist hopes to have the opposite effect on his community: contributing something positive to their environment that will affect them forever, for the better.
“I like the sense of community and empowerment that comes with art. People don’t have to fully understand what the piece is about to feel connected to it. This could be in the simplest form of just liking the colors.”
- Jorge Flores-Pere