While the human cannot make a blade of grass, there is liable not to be a blade of grass unless it is accepted, protected and fostered by the human. — Thomas Berry

In each of her emails, beneath the sign-off, Angela Manno includes a quote from Thomas Berry’s The Determining Features of Ecozoic Era (1998), whose premise is that Earth “can survive only in its integral functioning.” Manno is one of many artists who feel increasingly called to centralize issues of ecology within their practice, an aim perhaps best expressed in her ongoing series Contemporary Icons of Threatened and Endangered Species, which merges the beauty of biodiversity with the horrors of its impending loss.

“Art and activism are my dual callings and for some time, I longed to bring them both together,” Manno told Hyperallergic. Combining her training in traditional Byzantine Russian iconography and experience in environmental organizing, the artist creates “icons” dedicated to fauna and flora whose days on Earth are threatened or already past.

Angela Manno, “The Blue Iguana” (2022)

This exaltation of Earth’s endangered inhabitants pairs well with the form of traditional icons, which emerged with the rise of Orthodox Christianity in the first century CE. Manno borrows aspects of the Byzantine style, including gold leafing, painted archways that echo the naves where the icons where often displayed, and Latin names accompanying the pictures species inscribed in the upper margins of the images. She also works with traditional techniques and materials to imbue her pantheon with the gravity of history.

“My aim is to exalt each species as irreplaceable, having intrinsic value and to draw attention to the holocaust of nature unfolding before our eyes (aka the mass extinction crisis) and inspire action,” Manno told Hyperallergic. “In essence, my aim is paradigm shift, the necessary transition from our anthropocentrism to a biocentric norm of reference, where every species and ecosystem is considered, honored and respected for their role in the web of life.”

Angela Manno, “Horseshoe Crab” (2019)

Echoing the form of her painitngs, Manno describes an almost religious awe at the intricate design and uniqueness of each animal she takes as her subject.

“As the form emerges on the board, I find myself experiencing awe,” she said. “At the same time, I see reflections or echoes of scales in a bird’s feathers or a similarity in the eye of a seahorse and that of a salamander and begin to perceive that the entire living world is one exquisite, dynamic pattern.”

Hoping to help preserve these species, and not only memorialize them as they are martyred by reckless human greed, Manno donates half of the proceeds from sales of her work to the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation organizations.

“I feel I can have an impact beyond what I can as an individual,” she said. Her images offer a heartfelt prayer for not only the worship of the world of creatures, but their ongoing ability to exist.

Angela Manno, “The Chambered Nautilus” (2020)
Angela Manno, “The Mexican Blue-capped Hummingbird” (2021)

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....