• Artist and Indigenous American activist Nicholas Galanin combined two pre-taxidermied wolves for his piece Inert Wolf. “Inert deserves to be seen in person; it generates a strong emotional response, viewers have cried,” he said in a profile on My Modern Met. It was made for a traveling group exhibition that deals with humanity’s impact on the environment.
“I look at this piece in cultural terms,” he says. “Mainstream society often looks at Indigenous or Native American art through a romantic lens, not allowing a culture like my Tlingit community room for creative sovereign growth. The back half of this piece is contained, a captured trophy or rug to bring into the home, while the front continues to move. It is sad and the struggle is evident.”
While I appreciate the message that the artist is sending out, I wonder if there is a bit of unintentional irony in this work? The struggle of this wolf is the obvious, literal interpretation – perhaps due to the demonization of wolves, hunting, habitat loss, fur trapping or other plights directly inflicted upon wolves. When the artist uses the wolf only as a metaphor for his social justice struggle, does the wolf become a victim once again to human desire? Galnin does not comment on the wolf’s plight in and of itself in this particular interview. In my previous piece, Contemporary Animals, I wrote about the use of animals in art as mere vessels for a human message:
… these animals serve the more simple function as vessels injected with anthropocentric symbolism and superstition. Biographies, personal stories, and valid individualism of animals is structurally neglected in mainstream contemporary art. One obvious reason is that we fail to validate animals as individuals who lead distinct, complex social and emotional lives. Another reason is that many of us, in our social rearing, have been warned not to anthropomorphize animals or nature for fear of projecting our own feelings and desires onto them (who are often seen as too dumb to possibly carry such complexities). And, while we share a closely-knit physical and psychological genetic lineage with other animals, it seems more popular to assume these creatures are blank than to allow the more accurate possibility, as Darwin and most of modern science has showcased, that in having well-organized central nervous systems, they might share characteristics like empathy, fear, anticipation of pain, and joy.
… In a gallery, which frames and heightens the aesthetic experience, the animal finally might be seen as an individual, and that percieved personality might conflict with the artist’s intention. It becomes only natural to ask, who was this animal? Where did the artist get this animal? Was there an injustice done to this animal?
• Chicago Lions rugby player and coach at the University of Chicago, Alex Holguin, was profiled in Time Out Chicago after losing 50 lbs of unwanted weight after adopting a plant-based diet.
” It’s amazing how much my strength has stayed intact. When people hear I’m a vegan, I sometimes get cross-eyed looks. The stereotype is Birkenstocks and unwashed hair. A few of my teammates gave me grief, but after the season was over, a few of them started changing their diets. Of course, some of them asked me not to tell anyone.”