Art as Activism, by Lisa Britton

I have been vegan for six years, and started painting about ten years ago. However, I never considered myself a “vegan artist” until the last year or two. I had been going through some creative block as an artist, and was not sure what path to take. After taking a break from creating for a while, I picked up my paintbrush again to make a deer painting for a gift for a friend. What started as me not knowing what to give as a birthday gift, lead to an ongoing series of animal portraits; animals which are often exploited by humans. I want to help provoke thought, conversation, and hopefully change and action in someone’s behavior. Almost everyone I meet thinks a pig, lamb, rabbit, etc. is “cute” “sweet” and so forth, yet many of these same individuals will not hesitate to make a bacon joke, wear animal products, eat animals, or purchase products tested on animals. While this may be an image of a “cute” animal, their lives are often anything but cute and sweet. I hope to provoke some kind of mental juxtaposition between cute and exploitation, causing individuals to examine their actions and purchases.

This particular painting, No. 1, features my departed pet rabbit, Rosie. Rabbits tend to be a reoccurring theme in my work, not only because of my personal love of the animal, but due to a general lack of knowledge pertaining to rabbit of the general public. Rabbits are the third most abandoned animal in shelters after dogs and cats (Daly), and are considered by some to be the most exploited animal, due to use of rabbits for testing, meat, fur, and the pet trade industry (PETA). After finally posting one of my animal paintings on Instagram, it did not take long to discover vegan artists and activists from all over the world.

I was instantly impressed by California artist Lea Bumbesti’s challenging choice of drawing on black paper, like this drawing, titled Black Rhino. Bumbesti took great care to capture the realistic skin texture, eyes, and expression of the rhino, who is critically endangered due to demand for rhino horn and poachers. She further explains her work: “As a huge animal lover, ethics plays a critical role in my artwork and my everyday life. I believe animals are all beautiful and deserve respect, and I hope that message comes across to my viewers. We can live healthy and happily without causing harm to other living beings.” 

Born and raised in Hong Kong, where knowledge of veganism is scarce, Samantha Fung’s path towards veganism is truly a story of light coming out of the dark. Fung went vegan in the midst of an eating disorder and saw veganism as a means of further restriction. She gradually learned to accept and appreciate whole foods through a plant-based diet and began physical and mental healing. She began to learn about the systematic abuse animals face as a result of the foods industry and sought out activism, and she organized Hong Kong Pig Save in 2017.

This piece by Fung, Self Portrait, features her well-known use of vibrant, saturated colors, as well as a cow, which like all farm animals are close to Fung’s heart, “I also fall deeply passionate with making illustrations about farm animals. One of the things that I've learned as an activist is, the most effective activism is to inform and explain with facts. I started doing informative videos on YouTube in Chinese about veganism and the meat, dairy and egg industry. I hope to be a voice for the animals in my Chinese Community so that veganism can grow as a global movement.” She is currently studying illustration at Edinburgh College of Art and working on an illustrated book about feminism and veganism.

After watching a documentary on environmental effects of the meat and dairy industry on human health and the environment, Montreal based Alizée Goulet realized she had to change her ways to feel at peace with herself and live up to her own values in life, such as equality, love, and harmony. She loves creating and was naturally interested in creating vegan art as a way to combine two interests. Her artwork incorporates her vision of veganism in a constructive and positive way. This digital drawing, Cosmic Pig, is part of her Cosmic Animal series, which she describes as “I do not draw animals in pain or cruel humans, there is already too much of it in the world. I prefer to use subtle messages and create pieces with graceful animals twisted to add a slightly strange vibe. This way, I hope to generate interest and make people discover or rethink veganism with a broader perspective. This is why; the animal faces I draw are set up in space, where animal cruelty doesn’t take place, to show another possibility. I think that our feelings always know the way and I wish that my work can assist feelings like empathy to help people make the transition to veganism or reinforce positivity of the vegan movement.” A piece from this series was recently featured in the Veggie World Paris Expo with the Art of Compassion Project.

After going vegan two years ago, C. Jacobs from New York, better known on Instagram as @cynical_coyote, realized the change in her perspective on ethics and the world “to the point where I felt the need to change my path and pursue illustration promoting the well-being of others.” She hopes her drawings will allow people to be exposed to vegan ideas in an understandable manner to promote change by helping people realize that veganism is “already in line with their values of equality and freedom, the world can and will change.” Whether working with bold colors or subtle crosshatching, Jacobs communicates her message and passion. Her ideas are apparent in all her artwork, such as this piece Individuals Not Ingredients, marker and pen on paper, 2017.

 

Weronika Kolinska is a vegan artist from Poland who specializes in designing t-shirts. A lifelong animal lover, Kolinska went vegetarian six years ago and began learning about the animal industry. Considering herself a rational person who is morally consistent, she went vegan after learning more about where animal products originated. As with many vegans, veganism became a huge part of her life and has naturally worked into her artwork. In addition to co-founding her own brand, Menima, she has worked with brands like Compassion Company, Vegan Veins (she drew one of my personal favorites, “Eat Figs Not Pigs!”), and Grape Cat. Kolinska enjoys designing wearable art like t-shirts, they are seen and noticed by a great deal of people and are terrific for starting conversations. Her striking images feature detailed line work often utilizing strong value contrasts naturally lend themselves to a range of media and products. Her piece pictured here, titled Love All Animals, is a digital drawing that is also featured on a t-shirt for Menima.

While every artist I spoke to have a different background and approach to art, the main goal was ultimately the same, to help create change for the animals. Weronika Kolinska summed it up with, “Even the smallest changes have great impact when done by a lot of people!”

 

Sources:

Daly, Natasha, (2017, April 12). Here’s Why Easter Is Bad For Bunnies, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/rabbits-easter-animal-welfare-pets-rescue-bunnies/

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (2017, October). Why Rabbit Need Your Help More Than Any Other Animal, https://www.peta.org/features/rabbits-need-help/

Interviews with artists via email:

Lea Bumbesti, October 8, 2017

Samantha Fung, October 26, 2017

Alizée Goulet , October 8, 2017

  1. Jacobs, October 4, 2017
Weronika Kolinska, October 15, 2017

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