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The Ghosts of Our Meat: Dickinson College Honors Sue Coe

By Keri Cronin — November 27, 2013
Painting by Sue Coe

Painting by Sue Coe

I was delighted to hear that Sue Coe was recently named this year’s winner of the prestigious Dickinson College Arts Award. This award was established in 1959 and is intended to honor “an individual or group’s outstanding contribution to the creative or performing arts.” Previous winners include Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, and John Cage. This award, in other words, has recognized some of the most influential cultural figures in the United States.

It is particularly gratifying to see Sue Coe receive this award because she is not only an exceptionally talented and hard-working artist, but she is also an unapologetic activist who sees her art as an important tool for ending the suffering of animals. She has been featured a number of times on Our Hen House, and she certainly is one of our favorite artists.

The presentation of the award on November 1 coincided with the opening of a special exhibition at Dickinson College’s Trout Gallery, a retrospective of Coe’s work entitled The Ghosts of Our Meat. The exhibit, curated by Stephen Eisenman of Northwestern University, draws on 25 years of her work and features 40 pieces in total.

Painting by Sue Coe

Painting by Sue Coe

This is an important exhibition, and it has received quite a bit of attention in recent weeks. Perhaps not surprisingly, among those taking notice is the industry that Coe is most critical of, the industrial animal agriculture sector. Just days after the exhibit opened, an article about Coe and her work was published in Drovers, a “monthly magazine for ranchers and feedlot operators.” This publication boasts of being “the nation’s oldest livestock publication” and describes its mandate as providing “useful business management and marketing information for all segments of the beef industry.” Given that description, one may be forgiven for being somewhat confused by the fact that its editors published an article about a contemporary art exhibit.

However, the motivation behind this article is quickly rendered remarkably transparent. From the condescending way that the author puts the word “art” in quotation marks (as if Coe’s work isn’t really art) to characterizing Coe as “self-serving,” it is clear that the author has no intention of attempting to comment intelligently on Coe’s art, but merely wishes to belittle her. The author even takes aim at Eisenman, the exhibit curator (an art historian who earned his PhD at Princeton and who has published several scholarly books and received numerous awards in his field), mocking him as a “born-again veggie believer.”

However, while Eisenman is eminently qualified to offer commentary on Coe’s work, the same cannot be said for the author of the Drovers article. In fact, this article is so poorly written that it not only completely fails in its attempt to dismiss both Coe and Eisenman’s remarkable accomplishments, but ends up simply smacking of mere pettiness. Here we have yet another example of a trend that Our Hen House has been tracking, namely the “rising anxieties” of those who profit from the exploitation of animals. Why else include an article about art in this publication?

So, from all of us at Our Hen House I wish to extend warm congratulations to Sue Coe on a number of fronts – on her remarkable career, on being awarded the Dickinson College Arts Award, and for continuing to put pressure on the industrial animal agriculture industry. Clearly it is working.

Below is a video that Our Hen House made in 2011 for its Art of the Animal series, featuring Sue Coe.

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