Flying and swimming are not natural instincts in humans—we can't fly like birds or swim like fish. These traits, which we do not possess, are often the things we admire most in aquatic and airborne animals. Such species hold our imaginations, and we often project our own ideas and connotations onto these wondrous creatures.
In myths, fables, and oral histories, our cultural associations with various feathered animals and scaled aquatic vertebrates become evident. These ideas also become translated into visual depictions of such fauna. For example, early Greek-speaking Christians began using an image of a fish as a religious symbol for Jesus because the acronym for the Greek phrase "Jesus Christ Son of God Savior" (ΙΧΘΥΣ), translates to "fish". In Greek art and mythology, the powerful god Zeus is associated with or indicated by an eagle due to its majesty. Various meanings can also be found in images of animals through the placement, size, shape, and species represented. Renderings of flying and swimming animals in art are laden with symbolism and hidden inferences which we, the viewers, are meant to discover.
This exhibition will explore the diverse cultural connotations exemplified by these representations of feathered and scaled animals. How the animals' physical and evolutionary traits have impacted their meanings is also examined. The exhibition presents sculptures, paintings, and prints from various time periods and across multiple cultures in which avifauna and aquatic species are prominently depicted.
The Fralin Museum of Art's programming is generously supported by The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.
This exhibition was made possible by a generous gift from Arts$. We also wish to thank our in-kind donors: WTJU 91.1 FM and Ivy Publications LLC's Charlottesville Welcome Book.