Cousins' illustrations draw attention to plight of endangered species

Designers use jewellery and key chains to raise awareness of animal cruelty and exploitation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 5:00am

Most people would have a hard time putting a face to these names: the Malayan tapir, Coquerel's sifaka, the Sunda pangolin, the Armenian mouflon, and the saola.

They are all endangered animals and two Hong Kong cousins - both aged 24 - are doing their part to draw public attention to the relatively unknown creatures. Tsui Cheeyee and Aimee Mak Hoeyin paired up to become the design and illustration duo&dear after graduating in 2011.

They scour for news stories from Hong Kong and around the world as inspiration for their illustrations of endangered animals, which are now on display at the HKID gallery at The Peak Galleria until February 15.

Jewellery and key chains bearing their illustrations - which include facts about the animal on the packaging and whether it is at risk of extinction - are being sold at the gallery.

One drawing shows the plight of Asian black bears on the mainland, kept in captivity to harvest bile, which is used in Chinese traditional medicine. A cuddly but melancholy bear is seen clutching the prison bars surrounded by bags of bile.

Another drawing draws on a report from last month that found farmers in Shandong province were speeding up the growth of chickens for a major fast-food outlet by feeding them unapproved hormones. A light is switched on at all times of the day so the chickens eat ceaselessly.

"Loving animals is more than loving your pet dog or cat. There are still a lot of animals that need your care," said Mak.

While it may seem that their cute drawings are softening the actual animal cruelty, Mak said:

"Sometimes the story itself is strong enough to get across its severity. Our drawings don't have to go for shock value."

Not all of Tsui and Mak's illustrations depict stories of animal cruelty, however. They also draw on light-hearted stories, such as a drawing of a kitten who was caught wandering around the Cross Harbour Tunnel last May.

Tsui and Mak's goal is to raise awareness. "How can you care about something that you don't know about? Even if we can't do anything to prevent the animals from going extinct, every small effort counts."

Tsui studied graphic design at the London College of Communication, and Mak studied communications design at Syracuse University in the United States.

While Mak works full-time for a design firm, Tsui recently switched to a part-time job to devote more time to developing the &dear brand.

Tsui plans to spread their message further in April by offering animal drawing classes at the Hong Kong Playground Association. The duo will have another month-long exhibition starting on February 14 at the Platform art studio in Tsim Sha Tsui.