Holding up a mirror to reality
Inspirational vegan artisit Karen Fiorito tells us why art is integral in engaging the public and opening dialogue
Around the world, the majority of people ignore the reality of animal agriculture and of our collapsing ecosystem, whether consciously or unconsciously. Art is one method of showing society what really happens, through prints, paintings and other forms that force inidviduals to confront the truth. Here, Karen Fiorito, independent artist and curator, and president of both Buddha Cat Press and the Los Angeles Printmaking Society, explains why and how she aims to wake up the public with her art.
Hey, Karen. Tell us about your vegan journey.
I’ve always loved animals and nature since I was little. When I was five, my brothers told me where hot dogs came from. Actually, they told me that hot dogs were baby pigs, but close enough. I was so traumatised that I became vegetarian, not even knowing what the word vegetarian meant. I just knew I didn’t want to eat animals ever again. My parents thought it was a phase, but 40 some years later, I am vegan, healthy and happy.
I wasn’t introduced to the idea of veganism until my early 20s when one of my boyfriend’s roommates was vegan. I was fascinated by this concept but thought it would be ‘too difficult’. At the time, I still loved eggs and cheese. In 2010, I started curating an art exhibition on Animal Liberation. I did a lot of research and learned a lot about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries in particular. What I learnt devastated me. I had to become vegan; I couldn’t continue any more as a vegetarian
knowing what I now knew. I became fully vegan in 2011.
When did you decide to combine veganism/activism with art?
I first started making art from a vegan perspective in 2009, when I began my series Sacred Beings. The first print I made in this series was of my cat Diego Rivera. He died in 2009, and I was devastated by his loss. I wanted to honor him, so I made him into a buddha. I started thinking about how much people love their companion animals but also eat other animals who are just as smart, sensitive and deserving of life. The next buddha animal I made was a buddha pig. I wanted to make that connection between the animals we love and the animals we exploit for our own pleasure. I wanted the viewer to see that every animal is sacred and has a right to live and be happy. Since then, I have done bunnies, cows, chickens, rats, koalas, lambs and other animals. I have also made and continue to make billboards and prints about subjects that affect our animal brothers and sisters, like climate change and animal agriculture.
Talk us more through your Sacred Beings series, what is the message behind it?
This series of prints explores the theme that every being is sacred and that we are all connected to this earth: when one of us suffers, we all suffer. One species becoming extinct affects the whole biosphere of our planet. Therefore, we must respect every single being, animal or human. All beings are worthy of compassion and love, and in order for the planet to survive, we need to find that compassion for ourselves, the Earth and all of the creatures who are an integral and interconnected part of our ecosystem.
What inspires you?
Other female vegan artists and activists inspire me the most (there are men also, but there tends to be a lot more women involved with vegan ‘artivism’). I am involved with the Art of Compassion Project, an international artist collective which focuses on veganism. Through this project and through other projects with which I have been involved, I have been exposed to the work of many vegan artists and activists whom I have come to admire.
Through reading Feminist Vegetarian Theory, I have also been inspired by the many women activists and artists who write about and bear witness to the atrocities of animal agriculture, fur farming, vivisection, the illegal animal trade and the zoo and aquarium industries; women like Sue Coe, Twyla François, Karen Davis, Carol Adams, A. Breeze Harper, Jo-Anne McArthur, Aph Ko and Lauren Ornelas.
What do you aim to achieve with your artwork?
My work is primarily about raising awareness about important issues concerning the future of our planet, issues like climate change, pandemics, consumerism and environmental degradation. Ideally, I would like my work to reflect the fact that all of our ‘isms’ — racism, sexism, classism, ableism, speciesism — are all interconnected. I believe that until humans stop viewing the world from an anthropocentric perspective, we, and the planet as a whole, shall never know peace.
“I believe that until humans stop viewing the world from an anthropocentric perspective, we, and the planet as a whole, shall never know peace”
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
I always have exciting projects coming up! I have billboards going up this year dealing with the US midterm elections, and I am working on a special exhibition (which I am curating) about the intersectionality of veganism with other social justice movements. This is still in the very early stages of production, but I hope to have the exhibition debut in 2022 or 2023, both online and in-person.
How useful is art in spreading awareness of vegan/ environmental/political issues?
I believe art can be a powerful tool for change. I also believe it is the responsibility of the artist to bear witness to injustice and to hold a mirror to and shape reality. Art can play a positive role in society by engaging the public and opening dialogue. A lot of my work involves printmaking. Printmaking has had a long history of being tied to political movements, social justice movements and revolutions. My work is a continuation of this tradition as I use my work to explore such themes as women’s rights, animal rights, climate change, war, capitalism and environmental issues.