A Zebra in Me

Zebra – Oriental Ink Brush Painting

Rice Paper, 40cm x 40cm

By Fiona Sheng

@InkDifferent Studio | Brussels

The zebras are funny creatures, they look like horses and run like horses, but they are far from being horses. They have these pretty stripes that distinguish them from many other animals, and they have this notorious temper that renders them impossible to keep close. I cannot imagine the very first time the zebras were introduced to the metropolitan world, they must have caused such a sensation! They inevitably became the icon of the fashion world, and their skin pattern was taken to be used as such too. To me, however, I find myself relating to zebras on many levels, the disguise, the temper and perhaps more.

In the early days, people found the domesticated horses wonderful animals – they can carry heavy loads, run hundreds of miles, and even fight bravely bearing people on their backs – zebras must be useful in similar ways too, they thought. How wrong were these people! After hard work around zebras, people realised that these animals may obey orders in closed up environments, but as soon as they leave this particular space, they no longer listen. The domestication process of zebras had occasional success, but these nervous creatures that jump at the slightest noise gave people too much headache to be worth the trouble. Study say that the zebras enjoy living in a group, and that is indeed what we see the most, zebra after zebra moving together, we cannot tell where one starts where one ends, because of the too many blinding stripes they have. But after careful analysis, experts point out that these creatures also are rather independent, even though they live in a close group environment. The group would then be chaotic once one startles, causing panic amongst all. So, point is, the zebras are too wild to be domesticated, they are too unpredictable.

zebra on grassland grayscale photography

“I asked the Zebra, ‘Are you black with white stripes? Or white with black stripes?’ And the zebra asked me, ‘Are you good with bad habits? Or are you bad with good habits?’”

– Shel Silverstein

I have often thought about myself when studying animal behaviour – am I much different? I believe one of my deepest desires is to be free, be wild, follow my heart and create my own dreams. I also must place myself in the social environment, try to blend in, make my own stripes blindingly invisible in certain situations for better self-protection. But I know myself, my stripes will not only serve as “blinding” mechanism, these beautiful patterns shall also make me stand out, as they are unique, just like me.

The truth is, from the perspective of another species, I may only be just a zebra with zebra stripes – who hasn’t gotten these? During the streaming of this painting, one question was raised about self-acceptance. I find it a question of such significance that renders me speechless. In retrospect however, I think we can see this question in a different light, even though some of us have noticeable defects on our faces, undermining our confidence and self-esteem, making us too self-conscious to behave normally, we shall still see the fact that we are all but zebras with very similar looking stripes, the so-called differences that we care about so much may not matter to anyone else. I personally believe that sometimes not considering ourselves anything special may also solve some of our self-acceptance issues, perhaps it works better than the other way around. Accept that you and I are just zebras, be silly and be happy.

Enjoy such discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!

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