By Staci-lee Sherwood
Art can take many forms, from literature and paintings to film and theatre. It has the power to transform us to other places and other ways of thinking. Art has always been a place for free expression and often the place where new ideas and ways of thinking are formed. In times of political upheaval art has often been the messenger while targeted by those looking to hide the truth from the people. We as a species are highly influenced by what we see, listen to, read and watch. It makes sense that tyrannical societies have the least artistic freedom and the freest societies put a higher value on art and culture.
Another important aspect of art is how it’s used for cultural identity. For some people art shows their values and priorities while others use art as a tool to show our mistakes and a better way of living. Whatever message the artist is sending, art can change our minds and actions and the very essence of society.
Animal rights is a simple idea but one that comes with some of the most controversy and strongest feelings on both sides of the argument. At its core it seeks to give all other species we share the planet with similar rights to us. They have the right to living without the threat of abuse or death, as our own species has. In searching for ways to spread these ideals there have been rallies, laws, hearings, movies, books and art, arguing the pros and cons of giving other species ‘rights’.
Here is one artist that uses the canvas to show our violence and exploitation of animals for all to see. Some of her work is shocking, while other works are painfully sad. They all show the raw ugly truth. In many ways, the artwork by Jo Frederiks epitomizes what the core meaning of art is, a new way of looking at things. Artists have often been on the frontlines of societal change but don’t always get the recognition. Throughout history many writers, filmmakers and poets have been blacklisted for their views when they went against mainstream group think. Not everyone embraces change without a fight.
The cover painting is titled ‘THERE IS NO PLANET B’ and we know that to be true despite our seemingly suicidal treatment of Earth.
I went on Frederiks’ website and looked at her art. I decided to reach out and ask her how she got into animal rights, why she chooses art as the platform and what has the reaction been from the viewing public. I asked why she chose art as a forum for animal right and she said “Visual art is the most effective and articulate way for me to reach a broad audience. Unfortunately, animal rights are an issue most people do not want to contemplate, but thought-provoking art can draw them in and engage and spark their curiosity. As the saying goes - a picture is worth a thousand words!”
It can be difficult to get a conversation going about a controversial subject. Art can replace that awkwardness and help as its own conversation starter. Few people want to be confronted about animal cruelty but Frederiks found a way “Yes! That's the point of my artwork. It invites the viewer to ponder, reflect and question an issue they may never before have considered.”
‘IT’S THEIR HOME TOO’
Some of the visual imagery can be hard to take especially if you’re not part of the animal rights movement. The cruelty and suffering from industry is hidden from the public because those who do it know the backlash that would come from uncensored exposure. Drug, cosmetic and chemical companies spend millions on spinning false tales of how testing on animals makes their product safe (it doesn’t) or how it’s legally required (not for cosmetics). Vivisection, which is testing on animals in labs, has a very poor track record when it comes to finding cures for diseases. The truth needs to be exposed and this is a great way to bring about the conversation.
‘DOUBLE TROUBLE: A VICTIM OF VIVISECTION’
I asked Frederiks about the response from gallery owners to her art. She said “The exhibitions I've held showcasing animal rights art have had an unbiased response from gallery owners - they were open to sociopolitical art. However, there's always the risk they could reject my work due to its uncompromising, sometimes controversial nature. So far, that has not happened.”
Social change rarely comes with a whisper. Slavery only ended after war. Our view that exploiting other species is acceptable because it benefits us has been going on since the dawn of time. Shocking thought provoking art can help jump start the intellectual revolution that needs to take place before lasting change happens. “Some people are genuinely shocked, some love and share my work and some ridicule and mock the artwork. Then there are the politically correct folk who use the 'it's offensive' reaction to enforce art censorship. So there's certainly no sitting on the fence when viewing my images. My illustrations for Go Vegan World's wide-reaching, educational ad campaign received a very successful public response. And the feedback has been positive from my episode with the TV series Put Some Colour In Your Life which aired to a vast nonvegan audience.”
The palm oil industry has destroyed most of the land they mine, killed countless orangutans and polluted the water and soil forever with toxins.
‘PALM OIL AND POLLUTION’
How does the public respond when their beliefs are challenged? Many deny at first enlightenment takes time. I asked Frederiks if interest in her work came more from the animal rights community or general population and she said “From what I can tell, it is fifty-fifty. Schoolkids frequently email me regarding studying my art for school assignments. And many activists utilize my images on placards for street protests. Also, I have received countless emails from people sharing how seeing my art was the epiphany that led them to become vegan.”
The truth about horse racing is most horses end up at slaughterhouses, even Kentucky Derby winners.
‘NOT TOO MANY WINNERS’
We lose so many species to plastic. The Albatross has become the symbol of this. So many shorebirds can’t find fish to feed their chicks so they feed them micro plastic.
'WHAT HAVE I DONE'
The horrors that go on at fur farms are unimaginable. In the modern era we do not need animals to be used for clothing. There is no excuse for the suffering we cause.
‘INSIDE A FUR FARM’
Violence toward animals only teaches children that violence is acceptable. Their young minds are easy to manipulate. We live in a violent world because of how we treat other species, and our own. If we want to end the cycle of violence we don’t need to look any further than a mirror.
‘HUMILIATION IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT’
The international trade in Ivory and Rhino horn is pushing elephants and rhino to the brink of extinction.
‘I AM NOT A TRINKET’
I hope her work as has made you think, made you see things a little differently. Change always starts with us, we don’t need a leader to tell us what is right and what is wrong. We all know that answer, it’s time we treated all species with the same respect we demand for ourselves.
'THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM'
The artist Jo Frederiks with some of her work
If you would like to see more of her work or contact the artist click here
Also published on All-creatures on November 7, 2022
Also published on Animal Rights Watch on November 11, 2022