Keel-billed toucan with black and yellow body and multicolored beak

CREATORS – Divya Anantharaman

In ALL, CREATORS by McKenzie Prillaman

Name: Divya Anantharaman, owner of Gotham Taxidermy

Which came first in your life, the science or the art?

They both happened at the same time, as I continue to see both as ways of understanding our world, both incredibly valuable and influential to each other. The arts lend a much-needed touch of humanity to the sciences.

Small yellow bird and small green bird sitting on branches within a glass dome.
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman
Small yellow bird with orange head sitting on a wooden perch
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman

“The arts lend a much-needed touch of humanity to the sciences.”

Divya Anantharaman
Four butterflies on a rose underneath a glass dome
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman

Which sciences relate to your art practice?

Quite a few! In order for a work of taxidermy to successfully represent an animal, the anatomy has to be correct, so anatomy relates majorly to taxidermy. To accurately capture the character of the animal, ornithology, mammalogy, herpetology, and species-specific sciences are a great influence too. For works being used for educational purposes, like in a diorama or a habitat display, it’s important to understand the environment—so the type of plants, the type of soil, other species, such as prey and insects, that would be found in the environment, and how those things would vary by season—in these cases taxidermy is influenced by many sciences! One science I think many people may overlook that influences taxidermy is chemistry—important in using chemicals to properly preserve different skins, and in the compatibility of different paints and sculpting materials.

What materials do you use to create your artworks?

Aside from the animal specimens themselves, typical materials used are wood, urethane foam, acrylic paints, paper mache, air drying clay, epoxy clay, metal wire, various adhesives, powdered pigments, wax, silicone, needle and monofilament thread for sewing—it varies greatly depending on the project! Some materials are specialized taxidermy tools or items, but most materials have general sculpture applications.

Blue parrot hanging onto a blue geode
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman
Scenery with white-tailed deer fawn with gray rabbit surrounded by butterflies.
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman
Blue parakeet with striped wings sitting on a wooden perch.
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman

Artwork/Exhibition you are most proud of:

This is a difficult one because I am usually very critical once a project is complete! I think this year I am most proud of a hummingbird I mounted for a nature center—it’s such a small but beautiful creature and getting to preserve something that beautiful is such an honor! Another piece I’m proud of this year is replica flamingos I fabricated for David Bertka and Neil Patrick Harris (real flamingos are very hard to come by, so I made the replicas out of real feathers from various other waterfowl, dyed to look like flamingo feathers). It was an incredibly challenging project, but also very exciting!

Two flamingoes
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman
Crane
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman
Crane
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman

Which scientists and/or artists inspire and/or have influenced you?

My three favorite historic taxidermists are John Edmonstone (the Black taxidermist who taught the art of taxidermy and specimen preservation to Charles Darwin), Martha Maxwell (an incredibly talented American taxidermist who broke barriers for women in the 1800s), and Carl Cotton (the Field Museum’s first Black taxidermist). There are so many remarkable stories through history from this field that are overlooked, and being a woman of color, I find it really exciting to learn about these stories! Other artist influences are Elsa Schiaparelli, Grace Jones, Edmonia Lewis, Vanity 6, Erte. Science influences include Genevive Jones, Hedy Lamarr, Katherine Johnson, Jeanne Baret.

SciArt is an emerging term related to combining art and science. How would you define it?

There is so much unexplored potential for the arts and sciences to collaborate and engage not just each other but the public, so SciArt is a very exciting term. I see art and science as ways of making sense of the world, ways of interpreting observations. So I’d define SciArt as any combination of art and science, no matter what the end result is. Both art and science ask questions, but sometimes, instead of answers, we are just left asking more—there’s a great beauty in that, in surrendering ourselves to wonder.

Blue jay sitting on branch looking at brown mouse
Taxidermy work by Divya Anantharaman

“Both art and science ask questions, but sometimes, instead of answers, we are just left asking more—there’s a great beauty in that, in surrendering ourselves to wonder.”

Divya Anantharaman
Divya Anantharaman performing taxidermy work on a multicolored bird
Divya Anantharaman

For more by Divya Anantharaman, visit Gotham Taxidermy’s website or Instagram.

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About the Author
McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie is a fledgling science communicator working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has a background in neuroscience, and was a research assistant at the University of Virginia and a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health. After years of thinking she’d become a neuroscience researcher, she discovered her passion for sharing science with others. That finding, in combination with her lifelong dabbling in the arts, led her to write for Art the Science's blog. In her free time, she can be found volunteering with the Smithsonian Associates studio arts classes, trying new foods, and wandering around her home of Washington, D.C. Twitter: @meprillaman