[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.
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.
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.
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.