A Statement from KINSHIP Exhibition Curator Brett Colley
This exhibition has been coordinated in partnership with Calvin College faculty Matt Halteman and Adam Wolpa, co-conveners of Wake Up Weekend – a series of awareness-raising events dedicated to advocacy on behalf of all living creatures.
Over the years, the artists assembled here have produced significant work concerned with the welfare of our planet and those we share it with. While many of the pieces included in Kinship do not speak overtly to issues of animal rights, all serve to illustrate how deeply we connect to our non-human relatives. That we so clearly admire their intellect and beauty, empathize with their pain and take solace in their company yet still imprison them, harvest their skin and bones, and plunder their habitats for our own development indicates psychosis on a societal scale, the unfortunate outcome of anthropocentric, industrialized “growth”.
I believe in a sea change – a slow, inexorable transformation in our understanding and behavior – and often feel adrift somewhere in the midst of it. As a nation we are increasingly interested in the origins and nutritional content of our food, as well as in granting rights and respect to those recognized as minorities. If popular magazine articles, morning news segments, a robust retail niche market and innumerable devoted blogs are any indication, we are equally (if not more) invested in our pets. Pets have assumed the role of extended family in an era when we are routinely cut off from one another due to careers, college, marital collapse, etc. Companion animals have become our lifelines, emotionally, spiritually, even materially.
The intent of this show – and of the continued work of many artists included – is to make an appeal in our human voices on behalf of ALL our non-human family, to express the anguish and suffering that we are often unable to hear. Of course these beautiful creatures can and do speak for themselves but not in language that we, with our limited experiences, commonly recognize. In addition, billions of our kin are locked away in darkened sheds and cramped cages, unable to be heard or seen at all.
For decades biologists and ethologists have observed the complex social behaviors of other species – the unique “name-calling” among dolphins, the mourning of elephants, the elaborate alarm systems of prairie dogs, the gallant mating rites of roosters, the cleverness of crows. Given the swell of evidence attesting to their sentience and the richness of their lives, it becomes increasingly difficult, in principle, to dismiss all that we know in the interest of our human taste preferences, alleged convenience, and base desire for cheap goods.
As our understanding of the nuanced languages and culture of other animals becomes broadly accepted – part of mainstream consciousness – I believe that the privileging of humankind over all nonhumans will be rendered yet another chapter in our sorrowful, bloodied history. We, the artists of Kinship, are eager to help write the pages that follow.
Associate Professor of Art and Design
Grand Valley State University