May 26th/27th 2018 marked the occasion of the 3rd ‘Art of Compassion’ exhibition at Vegfest – this time taking place at the massive Ashton Gate Stadium in my local city, Bristol.
As well as being another fantastic opportunity to display animal rights art from all over the world, it was also a very special occasion for this particular AOC volunteer group because, almost exactly one year ago, myself, Sara Sechi, Helen Barker, and Aisha Eveleigh had all met for the first time at the ‘Behind Closed Doors’ Art Show in Central London. Aisha had done an amazing job of organising and curating this entire show, and all of us had work on display there. Helen (my self-confessed stalker) had decided to attend partly in order to hear me do a talk, whilst I’d gone to meet Sara (one of my favourite artist in the AOC). The seeds of my Artivism had first been sown when I joined the AOC group in 2014, but they really took root at this show of Aisha’s, and since that time the fledgling shoots of the Vegan Art Movement have grown, flourished and are now in full bloom – as proved by the 100+ prints from all over the world on show at Bristol Vegfest.
So – group hugs and hi-fives all round for the VAM FAM(ily), and a big ‘hello’ to our new volunteer Naomi Joy , a Bristol-based artist who brought her own distinctive art-style to the group, as well as a great sense of humour, and VERY strong arms (on Saturday she nipped outside and calmly won a Vegfest Weightlifting Challenge. I would’ve given it a go but I was too busy stuffing my face with cake).
The teamwork was excellent – the 5 of us spent 6 hours setting up without a single artistic disagreement or fist fight, despite the challenging circumstances due to a venue-wide ban on Blu-tack. Ever-resourceful, we deployed 2 drawing pins, a kilometre of string, 105 tiny pegs, 20 sheets of mounting board, 6 easels and a huge amount of ingenuity – and VOILA! – an empty corridor sandwiched between a blank wall and the sports shop windows was transformed into a fully-fledged Art Exhibition.
Over the course of the weekend, a LOT of the 9,000 Vegfest visitors passed through our exhibition as they made their way to lectures and debates, browsed for a favourite food/clothing/charity stall, headed for the outdoor music stages or simply took shelter from the hot sun and occasional rain. On a personal level it was a complete blast for me to see so many colleagues and friends from my old job at Viva!, especially as – after three Vegfests and one very steep learning curve – I finally felt completely at home in my ‘new world’, as well as extremely proud to be representing a collective of over 150 artists.
The walls were crowded (in an aesthetically pleasing way) with many different art-styles from many different countries, all with the same underlying theme – that of striving to bring an end to animal exploitation. These were visions of a better, kinder world, or – as one visitor wrote on our comments board – ‘THE WORLD OF TOMORROW’. And on that sunny weekend in Bristol, when I was surrounded by vegan artists, bodybuilders, activists, families, students, athletes, singers, designers, film-makers, etc. it certainly felt that this longed-for vision could one day be a reality.
And on that note, I was heartened to find that some of my most disturbing AR art prints sold – to people who wanted to display them in their homes so that their non-vegan family and friends could see them. This is provocative and pro-active advocacy, and I truly admire these ‘everyday activists’.
During the weekend I had time to ‘talk technique’ (in a satisfyingly art-nerd way) with Naomi, and was able to pass on advice and give encouragement (I hope) to GCSE art students. I also met up with singer/songwriter Queen V after her stint on the outdoor stage, and we discussed combining our future/songs – which is a complete thrill for me as I’m ridiculously in awe of her musical skill and creativity. Oh, and my neighbour Ann stopped by to say hello to me, and I was reminded that she’d become vegan a few years ago partly because she’d seen me dressed as an elf (yes, surreal I know, though it’s actually true. But that’s another story).
As a coherent Art Event our exhibition offered t-shirts, hoodies, postcards, high quality prints and handmade ceramics, but the star of the Bristol show was undoubtedly Helen’s ‘Universal Pig’. This life-size papier-mâché pig drew people in, and then delivered a really effective emotional punch as the photo collage pasted all over her body was revealed – each photo showing the face of a real pig as they were being transported to slaughter. This heart-breaking sculpture forcibly reminded everyone of the reason that our artwork exists – to connect the viewer to a hidden reality, and display it for all to see.
The AOC’s chosen charity this time was the League Against Cruel Sports, and at the end of the weekend we were able to gift them £245 from the sale of our prints. The League were pleased, the artists were pleased, the print purchasers were pleased – everybody won!
My standout moment was when a lady bought my print ‘One in a million’ (depicting two dairy calves lying among a sea of ear tags) and took the time to listen to me describe the artwork to her. She was obviously moved by what she heard, and told me that I was an inspiration to her as I ‘spoke from the heart’. This was incredibly uplifting to hear as I’ve been searching for my ‘voice’ for many years, and now – thanks to AOC founder Leigh Sanders, to Sara, Helen, Aisha, Naomi, etc – I find it easy to speak out so honestly and passionately as I’m now surrounded by people whom I admire and with whom I empathise.
Since the Vegfests in London (Oct 2017) and Brighton (March 2018) the number of artists joining the VAM FAM(ily) is rising steadily, and selections of our artwork, as well as appearing in Bristol, were also recently on show in the Lancaster Vegfest (USA), the Parma Etica event (Italy) as well as the huge ChinaFit Expo (Beijing).
So… today – Bristol, tomorrow – the World!