Updated: Dec 27, 2019
The first in my “Endangered Underdog” series, “Madagascar’s Heart” features the spindly-fingered lemur species called Aye Aye. The Aye Aye, as featured below, has the remarkable ability of sometimes looking like a wide-eyed, fuzzy friend while other times appearing like a terrifying-nightmare-gremlin creature. There really is no in-between.
It is the later of the two that has likely contributed to much of the stigma and superstition surrounding this species. Many people native to Madagascar see the Aye Aye as an omen of ill luck and even death. Their twig-like, long middle finger, if pointed at a person (while hilarious), is thought to be a mark of certain death and tragedy. As a result of this, it is common for Aye Aye to be killed on site. Yikes.
The reality, however, is that the Aye Aye utilize their “death finger” as a means to find food through echolocation. By tapping said finger on the bark of trees, the Aye Aye are able to feel the vibrations of insect larvae within the tree. So, unless you are of the insect-persuasion, you will find that as far as imminent death at the hands (or fingers) of an Aye Aye is concerned, you have nothing to worry about.
A combination of these superstitions and habitat loss due to deforestation has unfortunately landed this species on the endangered species list as the population continues to decrease to this day. Organizations like the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Duke Lemur Center and others are striving to change this stigma and combat the Aye Aye's endangered status through their conservation efforts. In my work, "Madagascar's Heart", I strove to contradict its negative stereotype by, instead, portraying it as a positive icon of Madagascar.
The piece alludes to the Aye Aye's ominous reputation as a bringer of death with small skull symbols scattered throughout the work, hidden in the bark, the shadows in the flower and in the jewelry the lemur is wearing. The utilization of jewelry is meant to stylize the Aye Aye in the same way that we might imagine witch doctors, pirates or punk rockers- other "harbingers of death" and angsty "no one understands me"- types. These symbols are more facetious than representative of the Aye Aye's true, docile and even timid nature.
The red poinciana, the national flower of Madagascar, acts as the ultimate symbol of the Aye Aye as it is held gently between the lemurs "omen" fingers. The contradicting appearance of the flower surrounded by symbols of death (i.e. skulls) is a reflection of the reputation of the Aye Aye. The Aye Aye is shrouded and surrounded by tales and superstitions of death, but at the end of the day is a unique and beautiful symbol of Madagascar.
As far as underdogs go, the Aye Aye seemed like the natural choice to kick start this series. Sure they can be unnerving, what with all the omen rhetoric, indiscernible appearance between rodent and lemur, and I sure as hell wouldn't be too eager to feed one after midnight. However, at the end of the day this sweet, strange and wonderfully unique species is deserving of love too. Looking into those wide-eyes it is a wonder that the Aye Aye hasn't already captured the heart of Madagascar.