[potloodcast] Potloodcast 17: Sue Coe

Potloodcast 17: Sue Coe

In this episode of the Potloodcast, Sue Coe tells the story about her life and what shaped her as an activist artist. Using five previously selected images, she talks about her childhood, the influence of growing up next to a slaughterhouse and the meat industry. 

Sue Coe is in deze aflevering van de Potloodcast aan het woord over haar werk als activistische kunstenaar. Ze vertelt aan de hand van vijf beelden over haar jeugd, de invloed van het opgroeien naast een slachthuis en de vleesindustrie.

1. An impactful image from your youth  

This image is from a book I read much later in life, but it depicts something I would often imagine as a  child: animals winning from humans. The animals depicted in the image were all throw-away  animals, meaning they were set to be killed if it wasn’t for them running away to Bremen. 

As a child, I grew up next to a slaughterhouse. At night, the pigs would be taken out for early  slaughter and would be screaming all night long. Growing up in the ruins of World War II, I connected  these two subjects. I asked myself: Why do we have war? Because we make war on animals all the  time, and that’s seen as completely fine. Living next to a slaughterhouse, the suffering of these  animals was normalised. If you questioned it, you were being too sentimental. People tend to look away when faced with confrontation. We can only look into the sun for so long  until we go blind. Art is a way to look at these things in a different manner, to see these problems the  way the artist sees them and intends them to be seen by others.

Image 1: ‘Musicians of Bremen (the animals win, and defeat the bandits) there are so many illustrations of this Grimm fairy tale that are brilliant and inspirational.’
Image 2: ‘Drawing as a child in the slaughterhouse next door to our house.’

2. An image that has motivated or inspired you to become the artist you are now  

The image shows a little girl drawing in a slaughterhouse, watching a cow being slaughtered. This is  one of the very few biographical pieces I have made. Growing up next to a slaughterhouse, I would  often draw here, which is something I still do to this day. I detach quite easily when I’m drawing, I  have to in my line of work. I’m there for a reason, this reason being I want to put the animals first and show others what they’re going through. By traumatising myself, I want to retraumatise others  as well. 

My intent is to reportage in these slaughterhouses because cameras are almost never allowed here. The most difficult part would be getting onto the kill floor. This floor is really dangerous, especially  for the workers. It’s a very small area, with a slippery floor and animals who would often be kicking  and screaming. When I’m drawing on this floor, I cannot move. Once they start slaughtering, I can’t  

leave. I have to stay until they’ve killed a set amount of animals. What I’ve seen, is animals make eye  contact with the slaughterers while being murdered. They want to apologise for whatever it is that  led them to be hurt in this way. This is why slaughterers are probably much more compassionate  than people who consume meat. Because they know the suffering. They’re not in denial. Nobody  wants to slaughter animals, they just do it because it’s the only job they can get. I would be a very  poor artist if I depicted meat-packers as monsters.

3. A work of your own that represents your first step of becoming an illustrator  

I was originally commissioned to make this piece, based on a horrific true story about a woman being  raped in public. The image shows a woman being raped by multiple men on a pool table, while the  rest of the people in the room watch. Making this piece was a turning point for me, because the  commissioners ended up censoring it without my permission. They did this by cutting the image in  half, sexualising the woman who was being raped. After this, I decided I was going to continue my journey as an artist on my own. Because I was so filled with rage, I recreated the piece in my own  way. I knew this was going to be the piece I was going to be known for for the rest of my life.

Image 3: ‘Rape of woman on a pool table by 12 men, in MOMA collection, made huge, as original illustration was censored, and I had fury. Not the first steps of becoming an illustrator, first steps of becoming a non compliant illustrator with rage, who will not be censored. ‘
Image 4: ‘Crime of Ecocide made for lawyers working at The Hague, to include Ecocide as a war crime.’

4. A self-initiated image you created 

I heard a person on a podcast, a lawyer working in The Hague, representing victims of war crimes. He  wanted to see ecocide be treated as a war crime. If you killed an animal, you would be seen as guilty. I did a drawing of the setting he described in the podcast, after which he saw it and I sent him the  print. In the image, a lion is shown judging two bandits, who murdered an animal, in front of a crowd  of animals. There is a rhino holding his severed horn as proof of their actions. He seemed delighted  to see the image in his head be recreated in such a way.

Image 5: ‘Trump and Covid.’
During the interview Sue Coe made a portrait of interviewer Floortje Smit

5. An editorial image you created 

The image shows a plague doctor, wearing a hat with “MAGA” on it, holding an hourglass. I didn’t  enjoy making so many different depictions of Trump, but it was my duty as an American citizen. Fascism is so tedious and predictable, but, with it becoming such a prominent topic in the United  States again, wasn’t something I could ignore. I could’ve done so much for the animals, but I was  taken aside to deal with Trump. He’s not even worthy of drawing, but I had to do something. To say  that the country is in a state right now would be an understatement. 

I have to push my work forward. Nobody is asking for these artworks about the meat industry or  fascism, but I still try to get it through and force it to be seen. I often think about the statement “You  have to hear the truth 10 times before you change”. My work is a tiny contribution to this, but might  tip people over the edge to make changes to their lifestyle and ideas. To propagate ideas like this  would make me a propagandist, and I am very proud to be one.