The Rolex Institute Presents Codex: Ashes and Snow

4:26 PM

Gregory Colbert is a Canadian artist whose photographic, filmic and literary work focuses on moments of contact between man and the animal kingdom. In 2002, he presented a show at the Venice Arsenal entitled Ashes and Snow. The largest solo exhibition ever mounted in Italy, it caught the eye of the chairman of Rolex at the time, who purchased pieces and encouraged the artist to take his show around the world. 

Codex: Ashes and Snow by Gregory Colbert (photo: Gregory Colbert Facebook)
The photographic portion of the exhibit features sepia and umber toned photos Colbert shot in various locations around the world. Documenting his years traveling to places like India, Egypt, Burma, Borneo and Namibia, the original photographs show interactions between man and beast. None of the shots are digitally superimposed, meaning that the boy reading a book in front of an elephant in the photo above is actually sitting in front of the elephant. For the exhibition, the photos were printed on handmade Japanese paper, giving them a natural look and feel. 

The literary component consists of 365 letters from a man to his wife over a yearlong journey. The title, Ashes and Snow, is revealed in the final letter and the photos and films are tied into the narrative. In addition to the photos and letters, the exhibition features films that contain poetic narratives that tie in the themes of endless connection between humans and the natural world. "When I started Ashes and Snow in 1992, I set out to explore the relationship between man and animals from the inside out. In discovering the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards restoring the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals," Colbert said about the project. 

After the success of the original exhibition, Colbert decided to take the show to the world, enlisting the help of Colombian architect Simón Velez to create the Nomadic Museum. A sustainable structure made using shipping containers and bamboo, the 55,219 square foot structure featured 2 galleries and 3 theaters that could be assembled and broken down in different cities across the globe. It traveled the Atlantic for shows in New York City, Los Angeles and Mexico City, then crossed the Pacific for an exhibition in Tokyo for millions of people to experience.  

The Rolex Institute has immortalized the show on their website entitled Codex: Ashes and Snow. They present the images from the show in the style of an ancient codex for those who have not been able to experience the Nomadic Museum in person. For more information on Gregory Colbert, visit his official website at For more information on Rolex and the Arts, visit

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