2011 Animal Rights Image of the Year
The Spanish animal rights organisation, Igualdad Animal (Animal Equality), bring attention to animal exploitation with a dramatic protest on International Day for Animal Rights on December 10.
Four hundred activists from several countries each hold in their hands carcasses of farmed animals (e.g., chickens, pigs, lambs) although one is holding the body of a dog. The protestors stand silently in the organisation’s t-shirts in ordered rows.
The image of the supplicating protestors asks us to see how we treat animals but also there is a sense of forgiveness about what we do to them. The protestors hold out the dead animals in supplication demanding the viewer to see the responsibility of our actions. We are not made to feel guilty. Although we should. Nor are we confronted with self-righteous indignation, which is all too frequently the currency of the animal rights protest.
Instead, we are asked politely to stop, look and think. In doing so, we participate in the protest rather than passively observe it. There is a shared complicity with the protestors. No one is innocent. We are all responsible for animal exploitation. We must all act. We could be standing there, too, with dead animals lying in our outstretched arms. Most likely for many, they are standing there with dead animals in their shopping baskets.
Compare and contrast the simple sophistication of this protest with those which are easy and unimaginative. Generally, they make their point at the expense of someone else, including body size, economic class, gender and race. There is no understanding, even recognition, of the intersection of oppressions. Instead, there is the excuse that ‘it’s for the animals’ which, somehow, magically makes possible any action permissible.
Of course, their objective is to make the link between our bodies and those of the animals we consume. After all, according to Darwin and today’s dominant culture of material science and evolution, we are all of us animals. Embodying animal protest with our bodies may make us feel that we are making the point, even becoming ‘one’ with the animals’ exploitation, and, surely these protests are successful in this regard. But I remain unconvinced as to the effectiveness of the message and what is trying to be said. All too often, it is all about manufacturing personal transformative moments when people recognise for the first time animal exploitation and start the journey down the path toward vegetarian, vegan, cruelty-free living. This is why the animal rights movement is more like an evangelist cause rather than a sophisticated political initiative treading the corridors of power.
One unexplored aspect is that with some of these actions there is unwittingly an implication that the animals would do to us (if they could) what we do to them. The ‘world turned upside down’ has a strong tradition in art and agitprop but its message must be used with care and respect. Otherwise, all too often, it becomes simply a gratuitous protest lacking any real meaning other than an invitation to voyeurism. Of course, we want to people to look and what are we inviting them to see? These intentionally sensationalist protests border on the pornographic. Attention is drawn to the people in the protest. The animals are absent. This is one reason why the Animal Equality protest is so powerful. The animals are far from absent. They are being held up respectfully for us to see. It is a simple evocation of how we treat animals. Further, it reminds me of the contrast between anonymous violent and illegal actions of some protestors with those who use open rescues as an open, nonviolent and turning upside down the legality of animal status to witness our instrumental use of animals. With the former, the people are the story. Whereas in the latter, it is the animals, which is, of course, how it should be.
Igualdad Animal is to be congratulated for staging a moving and dignified indictment of our inhumanity to animals in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.
Igualdad Animal released two additional films of the protest. Here they are: