Art and Activism

I don’t refer to myself as an artist. When I was much younger I wanted to be “an artist”, yes, but as I have worked in the arts for many years now I have realized that a lot of the game of becoming a “successful” artist is knowing how to market yourself. And that’s the rub. I have no desire to develop that side of my personality. But I do love to draw still.

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Our first group meeting of activist-artists.

We recently started an art group at Direct Action Everywhere, and I was amazed at the wonderful artists in the group. It’s an honor to have been included.

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Here is an artist statment I wrote not long ago when I was approached by art group organizer Leslie Robinson Goldberg, aka the Vicious Vegan of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) about a series profiling activist-artists.

Artist Statement

Genevieve Cottraux

As a shy and anxious kid, drawing and animals were two of the ways I connected to the world. My mother was always very tolerant about taking in the strays that my siblings and I brought home. At one point, we had 4 dogs and 7 cats sharing the house with Mom and the 4 of us. I drew a lot of pictures of cats, needless to say.

In college getting my design degree, drawing classes were always my favorite. My first job out of college was as an archaeological illustrator with a company in Sacramento, working on environmental impact reports and historic building surveys. After a couple of years, I was being phased out by computer applications, so I went back to school and shifted careers into arts administration. My love of drawing had really suffered, but never my love for animals! By finding a community of artists with the animal activism world, I’ve finally felt inspired to get out my sketchbook.

The project that I am contemplating working on focuses on the animals I meet and love during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. I plan to do a sketch a week, picking the animal that most touches my heart during my shift. I mostly volunteer in the cat adoption area, but I’d love to start including dogs as well. The challenge will be finding the best way to include their stories with the sketches.

I think what bring me back to drawing is the personal connection I feel when I am with the animals at the shelter. My heart is involved, not just my eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. Someone suggested that I offer the shelter animal drawings to the eventual adopters of the animals, and I really like that idea, if I can bring myself to part with them!

I went through all of the work I have accumulated over the years, and was surprised at how little of it involved animals. I included an older piece (the endangered Smith’s Blue in the DxE blogpost, link below) because it is a drawing I am still happy with years later and it was one of the rare chances I had as an illustrator to draw something that made me feel like I was doing something important (plus it made me happy).

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Smith’s Blue, my rendering

 

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Smith’s Blue, the real deal

The other 4 drawings, all unfinished, I included are of animals I recently spent time with at the The East Bay SPCA, the wonderful shelter where I have volunteered sine 2009. I plan to keep doing a sketch every time I go to the shelter, focusing on the animal that day who most tugs at my heart.

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Check out the DxE blog, The Liberationist, for many interesting and thought-provoking articles, such as this one by the amazing Kitty Jones: Five Things Animals Would Say If They Could. Here is a link to the post with my drawings: Art and Animals: Genevieve Cottraux

Tofurkey, the sad-eyed chihuahua mix, has since been adopted! Yay, Tofurkey!  I can’t decide if I hope they changed her name or not.

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Tofurkey (unfinished drawing)

I started a new piece last night, of my newest foster kitten Babou. He is the sweetest, funniest little guy. He makes me laugh and I know he will find a wonderful forever home, thanks to the East Bay SPCA.

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Fur-Free Friday

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Their fur, not ours.

Every day should be fur free, but Fur-Free Friday is the day of protests that takes place on so-called Black Friday, the day of frenzied shopping after Thanksgiving that so many merchants count on to bring in revenue. I have always stayed home on this day; I’m not a shopper and I hate crowds and the commercialization of the holidays; well, that’s another blog post. But as I’ve become more involved with animal rights and call myself an animal activist, I had to get myself on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and head to Union Square in San Francisco to be part of the protest with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE).

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Union Square, San Francisco

Union Square is, of course, ready for the holidays. The giant tree is up, and the crowds are big.

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The tree at Union Square

Santas abound, including the creepy Santa clown, Stephen King variety.

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Bad Santa and his creepy elf

But we are here for Fur Free Friday.

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In Defense of Animals protest sign

I couldn’t help but notice the disconnect on the part of Macy’s with its holiday windows. The wonderful people at the San Francisco SPCA have their yearly window display featuring adoptable animals, and at the time of my viewing the had adopted out 34 already, yay!

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Kittens from the SFSPCA in the window of Macy’s

But just a few windows away is a display promoting fur as fashion. Loving one kind of animal and killing another for its fur makes no sense to me. None. Nada. They all want to live. And no animal should suffer for fashion.

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It’s not fun for the animals who die horrific deaths so you can wear that fur.
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The reality of fur is not fun

I met up with the group and we got ready to do action! And it wasn’t just human activists; we had 4-legged activists with us too.

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“Real fur belongs on me, not you.”
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Javier, activist extraordinaire

Attire is important–it sends a message, whether in-your-face or of the more symbolic variety.

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Alicia Santurio’s awesome shirt
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shirt
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Lisa Zorn’s Liberation Band and bunny gloves

Rabbits are killed by the millions, as well as cats and dogs, for meat and fur. They deserve to live, just like us.

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The amazing Priya Sawhney of DxE led us on the march, with chants, banners, signs, and a police escort.

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Priya Sawnhey, kick-ass animal activist
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I’m not sure if they were protecting us or keeping us in line; we are a peaceful group!

I am continually inspired by the young activists of DxE; their passion and energy is contagious.

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Me on the far left, Sara Muniz center, and Kitty Jones on the right. I feel honored to march with them.
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Sara Muniz speaking to the crowd
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“Every year, over 50 million animals are killed in the name of fashion…”
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Wilson Wong and Ryan Peter Witwicki Faddegon
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Banner bearers Jean P. Harte, Lisa Zorn, Diane Gandee Sorbi and Dan Sorbi

We ended the march with a performance of Sia’s haunting song “I’m in here”, with Sara Muniz and Jason Andreas Biz on guitar.

If you can’t get out on a protest but want to let retailers know that selling fur is wrong, you can take actions as simple as mailing a postcard such as this one, targeting Nordstrom.

A day of activism really works up on appetite; a friend and I enjoyed a vegan lunch and coffee afterward. Hopefully vegan options will continue to become more commonplace.

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Vegan sandwich (with artichoke hearts, capers, sun dried tomatoes, avocado…delicious) and a soy latte at Working Girls’ Cafe.

After making my way back home, I had to go in and sit for a while with our newest foster cat Kianna, recovering from a fractured pelvis. I am so grateful for organizations like the East Bay SPCA for giving her a chance at life.

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Beautiful, sweet foster cat Kianna from the East Bay SPCA. She’s one of the reasons I act on behalf the animals.

If you feel inspired to join us, the next action is this Sunday, November 29 at Dolores Park.

DxE November Day of Action

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I hope to see you there! We will keep protesting “until every animal is free.”

 

 

 

Animal Place’s rescue chickens

On July 23, 2015 Animal Place liberated 1,500 white Leghorn hens from the agony of battery cages at an egg farm. Dubbed “Liberate Libby” for the poster hen who had her beak mutilated, her feathers battered from rubbing against wire walls, and spent a year with a dozen other hens in a cage, the rescue operation arranged to transport the hens to Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch in Vacaville.

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The hens have been undergoing quite a bit of care. When they first arrive, the hens must be declumped, meaning staff and volunteers spend time when the chickens roost keeping them from piling on top of each other and suffocating. The chickens have never lived outside of their small cage and know no other way of being except crammed together. It takes them a while to figure out they have space to move!

They’ve undergone health checks (the hens bred to be layers for industry suffer oft-times fatal consequences of the huge number of eggs they  produce and their life spans are seriously shortened). And when their laying days diminish, the majority of white Leghorn hens in California are gassed, their bodies left in landfills.

Today, I went with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) animal activists on a volunteer work day at the Rescue Ranch. Our mission, to catch one by one each chicken to go through a dosing of Ivermectin, a dewormer, as the last part of their health checking. They  stay at Rescue Ranch for a total of two months; for the rest of their stay they get to be chickens and also get some socializing. Our first lesson, how to hold a chicken, was provided using Libby herself as our patient demo chicken.

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We divided into teams and headed to the barns. Another group had assisted Saturday with quite a few of the hens, so our group had about 900 to catch for their treatment. Needless to say, the chickens didn’t really want to be caught and dosed with dewormer. It took a while for some of us to get the hang of it; go slow and be quiet, and work them into corner. DON’T make a lot of noise, chase them around, and generally make an idiot of yourself! Interestingly, each and every one of seemed to be talking softly to the chickens as we caught and held them, calling them Sweetie and telling them we were sorry and that everything would be okay.

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As we caught the chickens, we took them to the dosing line, where 4 experienced handlers were waiting to receive and dose the chickens and send them to the outdoor pen so we could keep track of who had and hadn’t been treated. A fairly efficient assembly line formed.

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And eventually all of the chickens were on the outside, not the inside.

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Then it was time to clean the barns, oh joy. We gathered up eggs (and there were a lot of eggs), raked dirty straw, scraped perches, spread clean straw and topped the hay bales with wood shavings (for absorption and easier cleaning, I presume). It might sound strange, but the eggs are fed back to the chickens. We tossed them on the ground in the outside pen (splat!) and the chickens eagerly ran and started pecking away. The nutrients they lost are thus returned to their depleted bodies.

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I was surprised to hear music playing in the biggest of the barns; apparently it keeps the raccoons from stealing in and killing the chickens. Raccoons don’t like classic rock I guess! There were also much appreciated fans blowing in the big barn. It gets hot in Vacaville.

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As a gesture of thanks, Animal Place provided us with drinks and snacks in the shade of a lovely tree. It was hard work, but great to get to know some feisty chickens and spend some time with my new DxE friends.

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The California drought is quite apparent in this part of California; the hills are dry and the fire danger is high. It can be hard to believe the drought is as bad as it is living in the Bay Area, but the land is suffering.

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Thank you to the DxE organizers for this event. It was my first work day at an animal sanctuary and it was hot but fun. Looking forward to the next one! I hope to eventually get to spend some time with goats at one of these work days. And thank you so much for the hospitality of the folks at Animal Place and for the amazing work they do for the animals.

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