When a Painted Bunting made a high-profile appearance in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park last December, birders and non-birders alike descended on the wintry scene to catch a glimpse of the wayward avian. But Colombian artist Tatiana Arocha found the songbird’s impromptu visit to New York particularly ominous. “Strange juxtapositions like this are becoming commonplace in the wake of rising temperatures across the globe,” she writes on her website.
Drawing inspiration from the bunting’s story, Arocha decided to launch a public-art movement earlier this spring, with an aim to install nearly 400 cutouts of tropical birds in trees and fences throughout Brooklyn’s industrial terrain. The life-sized illustrations of Colombian species, including the Yellow-crowned Amazon, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, and Sparkling Violetear, are meant to draw attention to the way climate change is influencing birds’ migrations and reshaping their native habitats. While Arocha’s portfolio generally consists of large-scale murals, her work has always touted the wildlife and scenery of her native home in Bogota. With “Tropical Birds” she honors that practice, but also moves beyond natural landscapes and calls attention to a more abstract and pervasive threat.
Each silhouette is made from lasercut wood and gold paint, offering a welcome contrast to cracked concrete and weather-stained buildings. Arocha's greatest hope, however, is that the cutouts’ presence will spark a conversation about the impact climate change is having on actual birds, like the Painted Bunting. “The birds may be beautiful,” she writes on her website, “but do they really belong here?” In other words, as the world around us unravels, even the loveliest disruptions deserve a closer look.
Looking for the "Tropical Birds" of Brooklyn? Find them using this virtual map. If you're looking to meet the artist, Arocha will be leading a walking art tour at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on June 18 and July 23. She will also be at Queens Botanical Garden's Festival de las Flores on June 26, and will teach a drawing workshop there on July 16.