Koko: The Gorilla That Speaks to Humans and Paints

Koko painting (photo courtesy of koko.org)

Koko painting (Photo courtesy of koko.org)

Thanks to my sister Sally, a fellow anthropology major who has performed play therapy with primates for a living, I was introduced to Koko the lowland gorilla.  What does Koko have to do with art or anthropology you ask?  Well anthropology has four subfields: archaeology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, and physical anthropology.  Physical anthropologists focus on human development and often look to primates for a comparison.

Penny Patterson and Ronald Cohn began work with Koko in 1972 teaching her sign langauge.  How much Koko actually understands the signs is controversial.  Although Koko is best known for her ability to communicate with humans, she also paints!

I checked out Koko.org and they have quit a few galleries of Koko’s work.  They also posted pieces that Koko’s companion Michael painted.  My personal favorite of Koko’s art is titled “Love”.  According to Koko.org, “This was the result when Koko was asked to paint her interpretation of the emotion love”.

Koko's painting "Love"

Koko’s painting “Love” (Photo courtesy of koko.org)

I also love Michael’s piece titled “Dinosaur”.  According to Koko.org, “Michael used his toy Tyrannosaurus Rex as a model and ingenuously flipped the painting over and simulated his toy’s spikes by pressing his work to the floor and lifting it upwards”.  Speaking of dinosaurs, anthropologists do not study dinosaurs .  This is a common misunderstanding and something I get asked about frequently.

Michael's painting "Dinosaur"

Michael’s painting “Dinosaur” (Photo courtesy of koko.org)

To learn more about Koko, view her artwork, or donate to gorilla conservation efforts click here

What is your favorite gorilla painting?

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5 thoughts on “Koko: The Gorilla That Speaks to Humans and Paints

  1. Pingback: Carnival of Creativity June 3, 2012 | The Writing Reader

  2. A long, long time ago I was given a book about Koko and it captured my imagination completely. I still have that tattered paperback. Thanks for sharing Koko’s art. Off to check out their site now!

  3. Thanks for sharing Koko’s story with us.I really did not have a chance to learn about Koko’s exceptional gifts earlier .You prompted me to think about primates in a different light now !

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