In the UK alone, the number of vegans has risen by a whopping 350% within just the last ten years. Along with the (very much welcome) introduction of new products hitting the shelves, this new era of ethical eating has caused millions of people worldwide to start questioning more than just their diet; and branching out to wonder what other parts of their lives may be affecting the animals we share the Earth with. From the debate about supporting companies whose parent companies test on animals, to using non-vegan products purchased before transitioning, there are many so-called “grey areas” which often cause divide within the vegan community. One topic which has recently arisen includes the use of animals in art; from museum displays to nail art, the use of animals in the artwork is as diverse as it is debated among both vegans and non-vegans alike. Whether it’s taxidermy, road kill beauty products or live animal displays; is it ever okay to use animals in art?
The Living Vs The Dead
Live Animals: One of the first considerations is the affect it has on the animal itself. Of course, using the corpse of an animal doesn’t directly harm the creature (unless it is killed for that purpose) whereas the use of live animals is an issue which a lot of the general population consider. There are times when the harm caused to the animal is obvious such as the display in the Guggenheim Museum in September 2017, which saw reptiles forced into a cage to fight for "survival". The display was taken down after thousands signed a petition to say it was animal cruelty. Then there are the times when it is unclear the affect it will have on an animal; such as with the work of Pierre Hughes who mainly used animals freely walking around the museum. However, this artists tends to focus on the question of whether the animals suffer, not whether its morally right to exploit them at all.
Dead Animals: This is where the grey area is far more apparent, as the body of the animal is no longer being used by the animal itself. Many of the beauty trends and artistic ventures which have involved dead animals claim to gather the remains if already deceased creatures and consider it their right to repurpose the bodies. From Christopher Marley who turns animals into works of art to makeup artist Jasmine Ahumada who used dead insects on models for her art; it seems that using animal carcasses for art is accepted as an eccentric expression for many. But if we accept the corpses of these animals to be used for "art", how far do we go?
Animal Rights vs Human Wrongs
For many vegans, the question becomes "what if it were a human?". When it comes to live displays, the issue remains that although humans can (and have) been present in live art displays; but they can consent. An animal cannot consent, whether it’s a cruel display pitting two "fighting" dogs against one another, or a seemingly harmless exhibit of animals with the freedom to roam. Indeed, zoos are protested as being cruel by many for that exact reason, even if the environment is somewhat enriched. So, the second consideration comes with the displays of animal corpses. If it were human corpses being used as an artist’s medium, would we accept it? Find it morbidly interesting? Probably. But then we have to consider the family of those deceased, and the consent of the departed.
Of course, there are some cultural, religious and personal differences with regards to how we view death. However, one thing which is sadly present throughout the majority of the human species is that we rarely treat our animals with the same respect as our humans – dead or alive. This is especially true of insects, and with insect carcasses becoming increasingly popular in the beauty world, there is a worry that this may lead to more harmful practices such as the live beetle brooches which are a centuries-old “tradition”. The bottom of the line of veganism comes to exploitation; and the view of other animals as objects. There is already so much objectivity of animals in the world, that to add to it (even unintentionally) seems unethical.
Either way, although many may see the use of live or deceased animals in art a quirky and harmless creative venture; they can have a deeper societal impact than we can imagine; especially in the current climate where most people are still reluctant to give other animals many rights at all. The displaying the bodies of creatures takes away the one thing which so many people ignore - their sentience - and can lead to further dismissal of these animals rights.
Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-a-tiger-roaring-38278/