Porky Hefer’s zoomorphic furniture draws attention to the crucial role of wild species

South African artist Porky Hefer presents a new menagerie of inhabitable animal sculptures at New York’s Galerie56, on view until 26 August 2024

Porky Hefer animal-shaped furniture
Beavers Kevin and Maria, part of Porky Hefer's latest collection on display at New York’s Galerie56 until 26 August 2024
(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

There are zoos, and then there are contemporary art galleries taken over by Porky Hefer’s fun yet thought-provoking animal sculptures. So far, the South African artist and activist (winner of several Wallpaper* Design Awards, including one for a residence in Namibia inspired by the nests of sociable weaver birds), has given life to a variety of fauna, including ‘Buttpuss’, a 50ft-wide octopus made from hand-woven woollen ‘cigarette butts’, and ‘Manta’, a ray-shaped dining structure clad in palm and raised on stilts.

‘Porky Hefer: No bats, no chocolate’ at New York’s Galerie56

Porky Hefer bat-shaped hanging seat

Tao the bat

(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

Hefer is now bringing his animal magic to New York’s TriBeCa, with a new solo exhibition, ‘No Bats, No Chocolate’ at Galerie56 (until 26 August 2024), focusing on handcrafted ‘seating environments designed to awaken a sense of play and wonder’. A celebration of the intelligence and ingenuity of wild creatures, the show is the place to spot strange creatures such as ‘Tao’, a bat-shaped hanging seat in leather, steel and sheepskin.

Made with contributions by long-time collaborators including felt artist Ronel Jordaan, welder Wellington Moyo and leatherwork studio Leather Walls, the nine larger-than-life forms celebrates the weird talents and distinctive adaptations of the bat but also the walrus, ladybird beetle, zebra, wildebeest/gnu, bushbaby, beaver and crocodile.

Porky Hefer hanging crocodile-shaped furniture

Crocodylus Freddy

(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

While the exhibition’s title nods to the fact that the flying mammals are responsible for pollinating many plants that we use for medicinal, cultural and economic purposes (including cacao, bananas, avocados, mangoes and agave), each of the animals showcased comes with its own unique traits that Hefer is keen to highlight.

These include the swarm intelligence of migrating wildebeest, which democratically decide where and how to cross rivers and traverse ground; the mutualism between zebras and the bacteria that live in their gut, which help digest their food but transform into protein during times of scarcity; or how beavers create vital ecosystems when they make dams, giving fish a chance to grow and attracting frogs and other species.

Porky Hefer bushbaby-shaped hanging seat

Warren the bushbaby

(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

Despite its use of humour and fantasy, the exhibition is a serious plea for greater tolerance of and reverence towards wild species. Hefer’s passion for the animal kingdom stems from his childhood, spent on farms in South Africa. ‘I learnt to understand animals and see the difference in their personalities,’ he explains. ‘Animals adapt to their environment, while humans predominate over nature to suit our needs. We’ve been taught we are higher up in the pecking order and that animals don’t have souls, but they so obviously do,’ he says.

Far from a lecture, the exhibition is more of an exploration of a strange world containing what the artist refers to as ‘a new kind of animal architecture’. Visitors can crawl inside the wildebeest, sit astride the walrus chaise, ride the pull-toy zebra and wheel it to another location, or lie upon the quilted leather pads that form the beavers’ tails.

Porky Hefer walrus sculpture

Paul the walrus chaise

(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

This interactive element is key to Hefer’s project, which harnesses the power of play to point to new ways of relating to our environment. His hope is that having encountered ‘Warren’ the bushbavy’s plush interiors or ‘Robert Nesta’ the wildebeest’s unusual forms, visitors leave with a renewed sense of curiosity and connection with the natural world.

Porky Hefer's 'No bats, no chocolate' is on view until 26 August 2024

240 Church St
New York, NY 10013 


Porky Hefer animal-shaped furniture

Robert Nesta the wildebeest

(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

Porky Hefer animal-shaped furniture

My First Beetle

(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

Porky Hefer animal-shaped furniture

Victor the pull-toy zebra

(Image credit: Hayden Phipp, courtesy Southern Guild)

Léa Teuscher is a Sub-Editor at Wallpaper*. A former travel writer and production editor, she joined the magazine over a decade ago, and has been sprucing up copy and attempting to write clever headlines ever since. Having spent her childhood hopping between continents and cultures, she’s a fan of all things travel, art and architecture. She has written three Wallpaper* City Guides on Geneva, Strasbourg and Basel.