Big Cats and Indigenous Cultures – Art by Nathan Miller

Big Cat Art by Nathan Miller

Big Cat Art with a Message of Coexistence

As the world continues to change, as nations develop and communities expand, we witness the loss of ecosystems and the evolution of culture. A recent United Nations Study found that 4 out of 10 indigenous languages are threatened with extinction. Climate change has threatened the way of life for many pastoral communities. And, of course, the wild species that share this planet with us are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2018 Living Planet report, since 1970, wild animals have experienced, on average, a 60 percent decline in their populations.

Therefore, as an artist I feel like I have an opportunity to say something in my work. I have a chance to tell stories in a unique way. As the old adage goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Big cats are among the most vulnerable species. They are among the most misunderstood, feared, and hunted. Big cats have also been portrayed in indigenous art and stories for centuries. They have been venerated and despised. They have been worshiped and destroyed.

In this big cat art series, I hope to bring light to both wildlife and the indigenous cultures that live beside them. And while conflicts between the two have existed, there are new paths forward. Ultimately, coexistence is the central theme. My hope is that these paintings will invite us to look into the eyes of animals and recognize their value, so that we may protect them for many years to come.

Legend of the Jaguar Shaman

Legend of the Jaguar Shaman - Art by Nathan Miller

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The Jaguar is venerated throughout Latin American traditions. This piece depicts the myth of the Jaguar Shaman who had the ability to change into the form of a jaguar. He wears a pre-Columbian jade were-jaguar pendant from Costa Rica. The were-jaguar, consequently, is one of the iconic motifs of pre-Columbian civilizations.

I painted this piece hoping to capture the alluring majesty of Costa Rica’s abundant natural beauty while also paying homage to the rich traditions of its original inhabitants.

The Tale of Waghoba

The Tale of Waghoba - Art by Nathan Miller

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India is full of cultural significance and stunning wildlife. The growing population, however, has cut deep into the natural ecosystem. For large animals like the Bengal Tiger or the Indian Leopard, this encroachments has created more opportunities for conflict. But, rather than continuing the process of destruction, there are those who call for co-existence. The deity of Waghoba, one which represents big cats, particularly tigers or leopards, has been around for centuries. Those who venerate Waghoba, believe in co-existence. Not only do they believe that Waghoba must be respected, but they believe that he is their protector.

As someone who advocates for co-existence, the deity of Waghoba resonated with me. This painting depicts the majesty of the tiger surrounded by both natural and man-made beauty. This painting represents the concept of co-existence. The tiger stares into our souls, asking us to recognize the value of his life, and his important place in this world.

Kingdom of the Savanna Warrior

Kingdom of the Savanna Warrior

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This painting represents coexistence between the African lion and warrior tribes of East Africa. The Maasai and Samburu people have a long history of conflict with lions. To kill a lion has been a matter of pride and protection. But, with a growing population of humans and a dwindling population of lions, a shift toward coexistence has begun. The Maasai and Samburu people, through the efforts of organizations like Lion Guardians and Warrior Watch, have effectively changed lion killers into lion protectors.

The lion in this painting becomes one with the tribe. He wears the ornate beadwork and holds a beaded gourd used to drink milk from the tribe’s cattle. He’s surrounded by artifacts and wildlife of the region. The lion places his paw over a spear once used to kill his species. The spears are part of the people’s culture, but they will not be used to kill this Savanna Warrior or his family. As the sun sets, a dazzle of zebra gallop in the distance.

Finally, there are two colors that are found throughout this painting. Orange, according to Maasai culture, represents warmth, friendship, generosity and hospitality. Yellow represents the color of the sun, which gives life and fosters growth. Moving forward, lions and people must learn to coexist. This new relationship must grow. And with everyone’s help, this majestic warrior will thrive in the Savanna and across the continent of Africa for many years to come.