Unit B: Michelle Monseau’s “Elephant in the Room”

Lucky has been anything but. A 46-year resident of the San Antonio Zoo, the sixtyish, female elephant became a cause célèbre for animal rights activists after her longtime companion Alport died in 2007, leaving Lucky alone. Since then, she’s gained a new friend, Boo, but Lucky remains, as she has been since she was captured at age 4 in her native Thailand, a prisoner of man. The zoo refused to send her to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee where she could have had much more room to roam free like she was born to do.

But it was reading “Water for Elephants” that led San Antonio artist Michelle Monseau to use Lucky as the model for her video installation, “Elephant in the Room,” through Nov. 7 at Unit B. Her video captures some of Lucky’s most disturbing behavior, repetitive swaying and head-bobbing, which indicate psychological distress. However, Monseau’s drawings and miniature vinyl elephant silhouettes have a playful quality reflecting the childhood wonder of seeing an elephant up close in a zoo for the first time.

And that’s the trouble with zoos, because it’s hard to abhor something that you enjoyed so much as a child. Besides the chance to see animals in a way no documentary can match, zoos also do important animal research and help to preserve species. Monseau says her exhibit is not intended to make a political statement, though she makes a poignant, humanistic one.

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