Brent Lewin: The Elephant in the Room

May 1, 2010 - May 31, 2010

On May 1st the attendees of Contact, the planet’s largest photography exhibition, will enter the world of the Asian elephant as seen through the lens of Toronto based photographer Brent Lewin. After several years in Thailand exploring the plight of elephants Brent has compiled a collection of compelling imagery of these great symbols of prosperity now used to to beg on Bangkok's congested streets. 

Elephants, revered emblems of Thailand’s glorified past, have walked side by side with monarchy and peasants alike. The indispensable role of elephants in Thai society has been captured in cherished tales and works of art along temple walls. More recently, elephants have been represented as cultural icons and used in the commercial branding of countless products. One would be hard pressed to look in any direction in the capital and not find an elephant motif somewhere. But for all the iconic representations of elephants as symbols of strength, dignity and prosperity, in reality the only elephants seen in Bangkok are those being led by their 'mahouts,' wandering the streets begging.

Groups of mahouts from farming villages in Surin province have long been coming to Bangkok to squat in fields and walk the streets, offering tourists the opportunity to feed their pet elephants sugarcane for a couple of dollars. With no income beyond a short farming season, the mahouts claim that traveling to urban centres with their elephants is a matter of survival.

Brent explains that "although it is illegal to bring elephants into Bangkok, the poverty in Thailand’s rural areas, the loss of the elephants’ natural habitat, the resulting threat of starvation and the elephant’s special status in Thai history evoke sympathy among Thais. Most police, politicians and citizens continue to turn a blind eye to the urban elephants, failing to address the underlying issues and allowing the situation to remain ‘The Elephant in the Room.’"

The Engine Gallery exhibition will focus on a series of abstract street elephant portraits. In addition there will be more traditional documentary images exhibited in 3D on old toy viewmasters. There will also be three abstract paintings done by an elephant, donated by David Ferris from The Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project (, a 15 year old non-profit in NYC. The sales from these paintings will go to buy food for the elephants in Surin province and toward a current bamboo replanting project that will help ensure food sources for the elephants in this region in the future. 

Brent continues to support Asian elephants through his current work with documentary producer Patricia Sims as a photographer/videographer on the feature documentary called "Elephants Never Forget", ( which is a co-production with the National Film Board of Canada. Soon to be filmed in Thailand and China the story further explores the urgent plight of Asian elephants and their relations with humans. 

 There will be complimentary Thai food at the opening courtesy of Bangkok Garden Restaurant, complimentary wine courtesy of The Grange of Prince Edward and beer courtesy of Creemore.  

  • Street Elephant Cola, Age 24
  • Street Elephant Ma Mieo, Age 35
  • Street Elephant Duang, Age 45
  • Street Elephant Pepsi, Age 22
  • Street Elephant Boopae, Age 23
  • Urban Jungle #1
  • Urban Jungle #2
  • Urban Jungle #4
  • Urban Jungle #7
  • Urban Jungle #5