The process of educating human populations about the true beauty and intrinsic worth of animals can be very tough. As a society, we have been conditioned into believing that the lives of non-human animals are solely geared toward serving human interests – and activists who attempt to argue otherwise are frequently met with a wall of indifference.
But sometimes, a picture paints a thousand words. When it comes to changing hearts and minds, a single, compelling image of an animal’s suffering – or one that shines a light on their true personality – can be worth more than all of the manifestos, petitions, and action statements in the world.
In honor of their dedication, we have compiled a list of super-talented artists and photographers who use their art to give a voice to the voiceless. Their courage, and their willingness to be honest and outspoken about the ways in which humans use and abuse our fellow creatures, help us all to see the true beauty of the animals with whom we share this planet.
We Animals, a stunning portrait project by renowned photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, aims to portray a new side to the animals whose needs are so often disregarded by human society. For example, by showing us how animals used by the scientific research industry are housed, McArthur invites us to ask ourselves: is this really the highest level of care we can offer to these animals, or can we do better than this?
Her images are undoubtedly provocative, and raise a whole series of challenging questions. McArthur said to OGP in January, “(The animals) are ghosts. They are our ‘spare ribs,’ our ‘leather,’ our toothpaste. The animals who are these products are sentient individuals, not a rib but a pig, not leather, but a cow, not a resource, but a rabbit who was used in testing.”
McArthur’s work was profiled in the stark yet critically important documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine. In an interview with Film Courage, she spoke out about the post-traumatic stress she endured as a result of her photographic work: “I realized one morning, waking up, that the first thought in my head was of a pig in a gestation crate. And no-one should wake up with that as the first thought in their head.”
Nevertheless, she continues to work tirelessly on behalf of the animals she portrays, motivated by her steadfast desire to raise awareness of their plight.
This portrait project was inspired by the fifty-one dogs who were rescued from the horrific dog fighting ring led by Michael Vick.
Levity Tomkinson, the Louisiana-based artist who initiated the project, wrote, “Out of the 51 dogs (that were rescued), 47 initially made it, and since then some of the 47 have passed. I cannot begin to fathom the daily lives of the 51 dogs who were rescued, and those before that weren’t. I paint for the 51 … I paint for any dog who has been, is, or will be a part of this heinous world. The resiliency of the 51 is my courage, my push, my determination, and my love for this project. This will show the 51. The resilient 51. The re51lient.”
The “Vicktory dogs” painted to date include Georgia, Lucas, Little Red, Jonny Justice, Ellen, Squeaker, May, Oscar, Jhumpa Jones, and Ray. Tomkinson hopes that Re51lient will showcase the true spirit and courage of these dogs: demonstrating that however traumatic their abuse may have been, it could never have damaged their real, core personalities, or suppressed their resilient hearts.
Andy Long and Steve Doris
If you’re interested in learning more about the killer whales held captive in institutions such as SeaWorld, be sure to check out 52Orcas, the blog project aimed at documenting the history of all fifty-two captive orcas in the world. The project was initiated by Andy Long, Associate Art Director for the Boston Magazine, and Steve Doris, Ph.D scientist with the Harvard Medical School.
The idea for the blog first arose when the two watched “Blackfish” for the first time, and decided to host viewing parties of the documentary for their families and friends. After repeatedly receiving questions such as “what are you doing about this?”, the pair decided to undertake some further research into the lives and histories of captive whales such as Tilikum.
After reading “anything and everything” about the whales, Doris and Long soon realized that “each whale’s story was uniquely inspiring.” The intention behind 52Orcas is to showcase the history of one captive killer whale for each week of 2014. So far, twenty-six orcas have been profiled this way. The tale of SeaWorld Orlando resident Malia is the most recent addition to the blog.
Dana Ellyn, a visual artist based in Washington, D.C., was a vegetarian for fifteen years before making the decision to fully embrace a vegan lifestyle seven months ago. She explained to OGP: “Animals have been making cameo appearances in my art for years. But, it wasn’t until my 2013 exhibit as part of DC’s Meat-Free Week that I really went whole-hog on the animal themed paintings. Once I started painting these works about animal rights I couldn’t stop. I didn’t realise I had so much to say on the subject and how much satisfaction I’d get from painting them and from discussing them with viewers.”
While her artwork can sometimes be stark or difficult to witness – as it exposes the grim reality behind topics such as speciesism, sexism, and religious division – there can be no doubt that Ellyn is always highly inventive in her subject matter. For example, in her long-running series, “31 Days in July” – which has lasted from 2003 up until the present – she paints one picture per day in response to a daily news story, thereby creating an artistic record of what each day of the month has meant to her.
No matter what her topic of choice is in any given moment, Ellyn strives to “only [paint] about things that I feel something about … that has included vegan/vegetarianism, politics, religion to lighter and more fun subjects like drinking. But they all mean something to me. Therefore it is a natural connection for me to not only paint about things but also get actively involved in the causes and activities too.”
Lead Image Source: Dana Ellyn