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The Peacock and the Cobra

James Prosek (American, born 1975)

The Peacock and the Cobra is an artist’s book that includes five prints stored in a portfolio box that resembles an oversized Indian-made matchbox. The vivid prints depict the conflict between a peacock and a cobra. While the pairing is not unknown in art (peacocks do hunt serpents and arranged fights between the animals are considered a sport), the scenes here veer toward the fantastic. Each print captures a moment in a loosely poetic narrative: a view of succulent mangos hanging from a tree, the surprising emergence of a cobra from the fruit, the tense meeting of the two creatures, the cobra’s body tightly coiled around the bird’s neck. The final, startling image reveals a mythological amalgam of bird and snake, a beast with the head and tail of a peacock and the hood and serpent body of a cobra.

This imaginary intermingling of species to create a hybrid is a recurring theme in James Prosek’s work. Artist, writer, filmmaker, and naturalist, Prosek bases his representations of animals on extensive research and fieldwork. Yet in works such as this book, he moves beyond documentation to explore notions of taxonomy, nature, and the arts.

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