Elephant Warriors & Interactive Ceramics in Mac McCusker’s “Big Game” Exhibition

Image courtesy of the artist’s website.

With her current exhibition Big Game at the Cultural Affairs Gallery, Mac McCusker invites us into the wonderful world of “Mac-ness.” McCusker, who is a native Savannahian, attended Armstrong State University and majored in painting originally. However, one of her professors, John Jensen, had such a strong influence on her that she switched to a ceramics major instead. McCusker worked at the Department of Cultural Affairs for three years, got her graduate degree at Georgia State University in Atlanta and then came back to Savannah to exhibit in an Armstrong alumni exhibition where her mentor Professor Jensen reconnected with her; everything came full circle. McCusker is now a professor of Ceramics, 2-D and 3-D design at Armstrong State University.

Big Game asks us to face difficult social issues like animal abuse and deforestation, with a specific focus on the endangerment of elephants and rhinoceroses. Each figure included in the exhibition has a hint of playfulness while remaining powerfully portrayed. Each ceramic animal represents the struggle which all endangered animals live through. “Elephant Warrior I,” Mac’s favorite work, depicts an elephant’s struggle to defend himself from hunters while holding a piece of bamboo in his trunk. “Warrior I,” along with “Warrior II” and “Warrior III,” are meant to evoke the regalia of traditional African warriors. They hold bamboo spears with their trunks and wear handcrafted jewelry made from African glass and brass beads. During my conversation with McCusker, she said that she, “wanted to be able to arm the elephants with their own weapons so that they may be given a chance to defend themselves.”

Read more about Mac McCusker’s Big Game and some of her previous works in the interview below. 

The artist (right) and SAI interviewer Michelle Guash (left).

SAI: What was your biggest challenge while creating these works? 

Mac McCusker: Probably the biggest difficulty is what I’m trying to say and if that message is coming across. So I always ask people when they’re looking at the works, ‘Do you think the message comes across?’ Because sometimes if you’re not paying attention you’ll portray the wrong message and that’s important to me. It’s really sad to do this kind of work but I feel like I have to do it. The hardest part is when you’re sculpting these animals you know that they’re being killed and even when you’re looking at the pictures of the animals to sculpt you can’t Google something without seeing the dead animals and people who are hunting them. It’s sad, so that’s probably the hardest part.

SAI: After researching this topic and learning about the diminishing numbers of elephants and rhinoceroses, do you feel it has changed you as a person? 

MM: I do – and knowing about these animals and what they are going through breaks my heart, so after I got through with the show I decided I wouldn’t work with this topic anymore. But then I got another idea. I’m going to portray the homeless shelter animals. This will unify the animals that were left homeless due to the BP oil spill, the drilling in the Arctic and the loss of habitat. It’s the same message, but this one is going to be more dramatic and reality impacting. To me the message is similar to how we treat humanity; we all wind up in the same place regardless. 

Image courtesy of the artist’s website.

SAI: Apart from exhibiting these art works and helping others understand this current sociological issue, how do you feel you have contributed to helping the situation? 

MM: Other than awareness I haven’t, I don’t think. In the future I would like to get to a point where I could donate a portion of the proceeds gained from my shows. I have a couple of organizations that actually sponsor artists to go to Africa so if anyone reads this, that’s what I want to do, take me to Africa!       

SAI: You have had many exhibitions all around Georgia, which one would you say is your favorite? 

MM: They’re all my favorites. I tend to create work about myself and that’s always putting yourself out there. I also had a show in Atlanta and that was “Mac”simizing Crazy It [was] freeing but it was very emotional. Somebody came to the show and told me that it was the most fearless show he’s ever seen. Big Game was easier for me though because it didn’t have to do with my personal life. 

The artist demonstrates the interactivity of one of the exhibition pieces.

SAI: What group of works do you feel reflect you and what you’ve been through the most?

MM: I would have to say “Mac”simizing Crazy because I was able to make fun of myself but at the same time expose the harshness of reality and what I went through. There was a time when I was so heavily medicated that I couldn’t even write my own name. It made me question: what is life worth if I can’t do artwork? So now I’m very grateful to have that outlet.

SAI: While reading your artist statement I noticed that you are very open about your depression. I found it very refreshing and relatable. Many of us go through depression and I’m sure some of us would go back and change things if we could. If you could go back in time, knowing everything you know now, would you change anything? 

MM: I wouldn’t change a thing. If I could go back and make myself hurt less, I wouldn’t do it. Because I like who I am now and if I change something I wouldn’t be where I am now. I think I have more empathy for humanity as a whole. When a student comes up to me and tells me what they are going through I can assure them that they will get through it. My sister would tell me, “If you can’t live for you, live for us,” and that is genius. I have three nephews and a niece; some days I couldn’t live for me. One day I could. Now I’m a rock star! I wish everybody had the people that I have in my life. Too many people are afraid to be who they are, they’re afraid to say: “I’m gay,” “I’m an addict,” or “I go to group therapy.” I think I am more me because this is me! And either you like it or you don’t; hopefully by doing that more people will [like it].         

McCusker and one of her works.


Visit Mac McCusker’s website here for more information on the artist and her recent works. Big Game is on view at the Cultural Arts Gallery until September 5. Attend the closing reception on Friday, September 5 from 6-9pm.

Author: Michelle Guash

Michelle Guash is an Art Historian who currently works for the Telfair Museum of Art. She is originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico and has a dog named Tiny. She hopes to be a curator, collector and gallery owner one day.

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