white elephants

each approx. 10' L x 6'W x 8'H

Ripstop nylon, electric fan.

view 1 | 2 | 3

[link to interview with Ruba Katrib, curatorial associate at MOCA Goldman Warehouse]


Elephants carry vast meanings on their backs. In particular, white elephants have been considered sacred since ancient times in Asia. The Buddha was conceived after his mother dreamed of a white elephant holding a lotus blossom. Possessing a White Elephant conferred great prestige on a family but also a huge burden. Keeping a white elephant was very expensive since it had to be provided with special food and accommodations and could not be used for labor. The gift of a white elephant was considered both a blessing and a curse and it bankrupted many recipients, some deliberately.

Another literary elephant is the English idiom, “the elephant in the room” which means an obvious truth that is not spoken or is ignored usually because it is taboo or embarrassing.

Ganesh, the elephant god, whose effigy is found at the entrances of homes, businesses, and temples throughout India exemplifies the contradictions and connections between the known and the unknown. Ganesh marks the transitional space between the sacred and profane. He is a protector and destroyer, and the creator and remover of obstacles.

At this point, the White Elephant is an apt metaphor for our contemporary condition; too expensive to sustain, too precious to surrender, and in a state of rapid change.

May this ancient symbol of transformation remind us to respect each other, to remember the past, and to protect the future. The elephant is able to move silently in spite of its great mass, perhaps we too will learn to step more carefully.

© 2009 Billie Grace Lynn. All rights reserved.