There is a part of each of us held in these sculptures and their stories,
for they speak of our search for what it means to be human,
and to feel a deeper sense of belonging and connection
within the wider living world.
The Public Engagement Programmes - An Overview
Shaping thoughts. Creating journeys. Enabling change.
Drawn from deep within Noel’s creative vision are a series of sculptures which stand apart in their inspiration and narrative, but which are at the foreground of his artistic search for a more profound connection with the world around him.
These are the storylines pieces that inspire the multi-layered thought-journeys, sculptures which are born of a different place, and hold within them a deep complexity, weaving together ancient indigenous cultural knowledge with a creative search for what it means to be human in our modern age, and given expression through these unique artworks.
Grounded in the unfolding journey of self discovery, they have the potential to help us understand ourselves better and, in this way, provide a clearer pathway into the future, for they are born of something intrinsically human.
By partnering with international organizations, these sculptures and their storylines have been presented in the public sphere as a way to share their important stories and messages, and to encourage reflection and debate
Mapungubwe Revisited - where Ancient meets Contemporary
Eight hundred years ago, at the Late Iron Age archaeological site of Mapungubwe, a member of the royal family was laid to rest, and within the grave was placed a little rhino, 15cm long and made of pure gold. This compelling artwork speaks through time, and as an artist Noel saw its significance not only as a symbol of the rich cultural legacy of Africa, but also that it speaks to how our relationship with nature has changed over time.
Inspired to create a sculpture which encapsulates these ideas, Noel created Mapungubwe Revisited, and invited WWF-SA to collaborate with him as a way to encourage reflection and debate around these issues within the public domain. After a launch at the prestigious Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg and the Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria, special events were held around South Africa where a limited edition of bronzes, as well as a special gold leaf edition were sold, with all the proceeds going towards WWF's crucial rhino conservation work. Over R500.000 was raised for this important work.
At the various events held around the country, Noel shared his inspiration around the artwork, saying:
"As it was not a fragment of horn or body part but a complete rhino, it thereby embodies a deeper connection with, and reverence for this magnificent animal of Africa. It could be said that this gold rhino linked these people to the land through a sacred thread of belonging.
“It speaks to me, and offers a signpost to something that we might have forgotten but fortunately not lost; for it can remind us that the natural world around us is much more than a commodity, a space or a view, it is an intrinsic part of who we are and where we have come from, and each rhino killed or tract of land destroyed is another part of ourselves lost. This little gold rhino makes visible the deep connection we have with the natural world, a connection which sustains our souls, and reminds us to tread more lightly upon the earth.
Far too easily we as a species see nature and her gifts as mere resources, available for the plunder and taking, and in the case of wildlife such as rhino, to be killed with horrific brutality. This points to a crisis, not only for rhinos, but for us as well. By enabling these acts of cruelty and disregard, we make visible a fraying of the mortality, empathy, sanctity of life and wisdom which are surely the cornerstones to our civilization…”
For the first time in 800 years the two sculptures are exhibited in the Mapungubwe Museum
Noel and Belinda Ashton’s ‘Mapungubwe Revisited’ is a brilliant initiative to honour the rhino. The reverence of the ancient people for this wonderful animal is a sharp reminder to so-called civilised man to ensure that the species survives in our modern world. Dr Ian Player
Sacred Ocean and The Great Whaling Debate
Our relationship with whales can help us see ourselves more clearly, for the dichotomy between those who feel a close affinity with these majestic mammals of the deep, expressed by the very human response to whales stranded on a beach, compared to those who treat these sentient beings as a commodity and fire explosive-headed harpoons into them in the name of commerce, shows us our inner potential for empathy or cruelty, two divergent actions at the opposite ends of choice.
Unveiled by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in the foyer of the prestigious Two Ocean Aquarium, Sacred Ocean speaks to each of us about what it means to be human and helps us to explore our duality of choice.
Looking at Sacred Ocean, time has stopped, for a while. Standing nearly four metres tall, the whales face the viewer creating an emotive, physical presence. The viewer is somehow urged to feel something, to dig into his/her recesses and to start the inquiry. About themselves, about life, about the whales and about the future of the seas and the planet. Janis Theron
The Whale Show and The Whale Walk
"To spend time watching the whales from the shores of Walker Bay is an incredible experience, and if this can be combined with easily accessible and fascinating information, then the experience can be deepened, with the outcome that each person returns home not only having had an unforgettable time, but they also become advocates for the protection of whales and their threatened marine habitats. That was the motivation behind the creation of the Whale Show and The Whale Walk". Noel at the Launch of the Whale Show
This unique 25-minute Audio-Visual presentation takes the viewer below the surface and into the fascinating ocean world of whales and dolphins, with a special focus on the visiting southern right whales. Developed using Noel’s paintings, illustrations and photographs, with an evocative script narrated by John Webb, the show has been sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and is shown daily in the Lecture Room of the Whale Museum in Hermanus.
Learned men had spoken of the vastness of the oceans, but it was only when the Pacific came into view that their wisdom was confirmed. An ocean so vast that it alone covers almost a third of the world’s surface, with colours ranging from blue to green, depths from a few metres to over ten kilometres, parts completely barren and others sustaining an incredible diversity of life, and if we were to search this ocean we might come across some of the most extraordinary animals with which we share this planet, the magnificent whales…
An excerpt from Noel’s Whale Show narrative.
The recently launched Whale Show in the Whale Museum is an experience not to be missed. This unique presentation is something every resident of Hermanus and every visitor must see.
Storm Kreusch, Hermanus Tourism
The famous writer and artist, Noel Ashton, has produced a stunningly informative video of the Southern Right Whale…
Liz McGrath, The Marine Hotel
“I have known the Ashton’s for many years and have always admired their intimate knowledge of the region, their passion for its wonderful whales and dolphins, and their remarkable efforts to drum up urgently needed support for conservation efforts to look after them.”
Mark Carwardine, BBC Presenter
The De Beers Oceans of Africa Species Panels
Many aquariums around the world have stood up for animal rights and will not house any species of whale of dolphin, even though they can be a very lucrative inclusion. One solution is to display panels which bring the powerful imagery, the fascinating science, and the life stories of whales and dolphins into an engaging encounter. The De Beers Oceans of Africa panels introduce twelve of Southern Africa's most frequently seen species.
52 Artworks - A Year in Nature
A unique wildlife exhibition with a fascinating story
Engaging with nature in a meaningful way is something few of us ever get a real chance to do, but in June 2011 wildlife artist Noel Ashton began a unique journey of reconnecting with nature, and by creating a new artwork each week for the period of a year, he was able to engage deeply in the experience, and to share many of his wonderful encounters through artworks and narratives. Coming face to face with otters, following elusive klipspringers, sitting quietly and watching herons quietly fishing at the edge of a stream, or waiting for a porcupine to appear at dusk are all captured in engaging large format paintings, offering unique perspectives of the extraordinary natural world around us, and inviting us to pause and share the experiences in this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. Africa Geographic Magazine