New ‘moral dilemma’ art works respond to big game hunting trophies at historic house

Press release
5,000 ceramic rhino horns – representing the world’s remaining black rhinoceroses - have gone on show at the National Trust’s Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire.
Published : 12 Sep 2019

A display of 5,000 small porcelain black rhinoceros horns are on show at Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire, each representing one of the remaining black rhinos left in the world.

To draw the parallel between the artwork and the animals in the wild, visitors will be invited to take one of the 5,000 ceramic rhino horn artworks home as a souvenir, but with the moral dilemma that each one taken cannot be replaced and will leave fewer and fewer for others to experience.

Artist Layla Khoo was invited to respond to the big game hunting trophies in the house while the collection of big cat skins were away for cleaning and conservation.

The trophies of big cats, antelope and other animals, which for years have greeted visitors on arrival at the hall, were collected by former owner, Colonel Ronald Fife. He acquired them while serving the Yorkshire Regiment in Africa and India during the early twentieth century. 

On display in the Stone Hall, they have been a prominent part of the collection, but now four of the big cat skins - a lion, leopard and two tigers – have been removed for specialist conservation work. Having been on the walls since the 1920s in a room with an open fire they will need careful and thorough hand cleaning. Some damage will be repaired although the aim is not to fully restore them, but to protect them from further decline.

Inspiration for the ceramic art installation has been taken from the black rhino horn once kept in Colonel Fife’s collection but no longer on display. 

The exhibition ‘Change in Attitudes’ will also feature wall mounted tiled panels cast with real lion, tiger and rhino prints, which Layla took from the animal enclosures at Flamingo Land with the zoo’s support. Historically, footprints would have been used by hunters to track their quarry.

Also, in Colonel Fife’s bedroom, three mirrors will show reflective quotations of three aspects of his life as a military leader, a keen hunter and a devoted and loving husband and father. 

Each piece of art aims to encourage conversation about how social acceptance of big game hunting has changed, the rise in support for wildlife conservation, and the acknowledgement that game hunting is still active.

Nunnington curator for the National Trust, Jonathan Wallis said:

“Layla’s installations provide a powerful reminder of the devastating effect of big game hunting on many, now endangered, species and the conservation issues we are tackling today. 

“When he took up big game hunting, Colonel Fife is unlikely to have considered such issues. Attitudes to this type of hunting were very different in his day.

“We don’t condone his actions or collecting such trophies but by displaying his collection uncensored, we can enable visitors to consider its effects even though big game trophies can be difficult for people to view now. We hope Layla’s installation will provide visitors with an engaging experience and place for reflection.”

John Orna-Ornstein, the National Trust’s Director of Culture & Engagement said: “There are plenty of objects in National Trust houses that can feel out of place and uncomfortable, even shocking, to today’s visitors. We want to take a thoughtful look at what these objects mean to people today, and creative works by contemporary artists are a particularly effective way of exploring such collections and the challenges they raise.”

A Yorkshire-based ceramic artist, Layla Khoo said:
"Living locally to Nunnington Hall, I was already familiar with and fascinated by both the house and the collection. When the opportunity arose not only to research and respond to the taxidermy display, but to also take the opportunity to engage the public in conversations about conservation, I was eager to develop these ideas. 

“The narrative of the work evolved as I was able to explore the social and historical context of Colonel Fife's life experiences. I was then able to contrast this with current times and attitudes towards the natural environment with the help of Flamingo Land zoo, who were able to demonstrate the impact of breeding programmes for endangered species, including black rhino. My hope is that people will come away from the installation pieces with an insight into the stories the collection tells and consider how this reflects on their own choices and current environmental issues."

The exhibition, ‘Change in Attitudes’, has been made possible by funding from Arts Council England National Lottery Funding as well as the support of Flamingo Land. It will be on display until November 2020.