Black Panther Got Loose from the Bronx Zoo

Based on an article published in The New York Times in 1902, this tapestry depicts a historical episode: A black panther escaped from the Bronx zoo, evaded a police pursuit, dove into the Bronx River, and swam to his freedom. The project is inspired by the tradition of European tapestry making, which often depicted triumphal hunting scenes.

Black Panther Got Loose from the Bronx Zoo, installation view, Meislin Projects, 2017

Hunting scenes are among the most ancient themes in art history, they go back as far as cave paintings. It carries a message of human dominance over nature and is rooted in the fear of the unpredictable, irrational, wild, that all of the sudden lashes out and needs to be controlled. In modern times, it might resemble Hollywood movies like Godzilla, Jurassic Park, or Kong King. 

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Black Panther Got Loose From the Bronx Zoo, 8 x 8', Hand-woven tapestry (Gobelin), Wool and cotton, 2017​

Black Panther Got Loose from the Bronx Zoo is specifically inspired by the celebrated series of European tapestries The Hunt of the Unicorn, from the 15th Century; A medieval allegory that has several potential meanings which scholars still debate. Michaeli’s tapestry portrays a modern-day hunting scene of a black hero, ​which, in the contemporary era, resonates in new ways and with new meanings.

Details from Black Panther Got Loose From the Bronx Zoo

The article details how the Panther managed to sneak out of the cage. It recounts how a squad of police tried to hunt it down, how it scared park visitors and ate their lunch from picnic baskets.

 

Black Panther Got Loose from the Bronx Zoo (excerpts), Video, 10 min., USA & China, 2017

Black Panther Got Loose from the Bronx Zoo's video reveals the story behind the project, documents the working process of the tapestry in the USA and China, and features interviews with experts from the field of tapestry making and art history

The tapestry was handwoven in a Chinese factory, specializing in replicating French gobelins. The factory was founded in the 20th century by French entrepreneurs in order to meet the high demand for tapestries in Europe. They supplied the locals with the necessary means of production and taught them the secrets of their traditional craft.

 
 
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Black Panther Got Loose From the Bronx Zoo, Watercolor on paper, 9.5 x 9" each, 2016

A preliminary study preceded the weaving of the tapestry and yielded a series of watercolor and acrylic drawings, telling the story of the escaping black panther. 

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Black Panther Got Loose from the Bronx Zoo, Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36", 2016

* This project was commissioned by the American Jewish Historical Society