Vegan Life meets...
Artivist Alfredo Meschi has 40,000 X's tattooed onto his body - all in the name of representation and awareness of animal exploitation. Here, he tells Vegan Life why art is so universally powerful.
Based in Italy, artivist Alfredo Meschi uses his body to make a point about the killing of animals. The result? A representation of slaughter, violence and abuse so persuasive, that many people have turned vegan after meeting him. We talk to the performer about his tattoos, the might of non-verbal communication, and the planet's greatest threat.
Hello, Alfredo! Tell us about your own vegan journey. How did it all begin?
It has been a very long journey. I had to free myself from a family imprinting made by my father - a hunter, who took me to the Big Game hunting in East Africa when I was six years old and by my uncle, the Italian spearfishing champion who taught me how to fish at the same young age. I, too, have been a hunter and fisherman. Only at the age of 50 did I have the chance to find the inner space to understand that I could experience that wilderness, that wonderful nature that my family had introduced me to, without having to kill anyone. From the moment I made this inner change to the decision to go vegan, very few days had passed. It was an inevitable choice for me, which I celebrate every day.
When did you decide to combine veganism with art and performance?
Six months after my vegan choice, I felt the need to actively take part in the animal liberation movement. The choice to do it through contemporary art and performance art was dictated by my personal artistic path and the desire to find means of communication rather than those of classical activism.
Why is artivism such a powerful medium for instigating change?
Through art we can circumvent intellectual resistances and touch really intimate chords, sometimes with an exclusively rational and verbal approach this could be much more difficult to achieve.
Talk us through Project X. What does it aim to achieve?
Project X comes to life from the 40,000 X's I have tattooed all over my body - 40,000 being the number of animals killed every second in the world, just to satisfy our insane appetite. I wanted to freeze at least one second of that madness on my skin and make it visible and accessible to anyone. By creating performances, photographic shootings, advertising campaigns, direct artivism actions, etc., the images of my body have reached millions of people, producing reactions, reflections, changes. Many people have changed their perspective on animal exploitation, often becoming vegan, after having into contact with the 40,000 X's. And that's what matters.
Why use an 'X'?
Because I wanted an apparently neutral symbol, a symbol that we use when we have finished doing a thing, counting one thing, killing a 'thing'.
And, why use tattoos as your form of activism, and not nother medium?
I am an author, I have written five books and held hundreds of public lectures, but perhaps it was because of my background and the fact that at the same time I have been teaching non-verbal theatre for over 20 years, I wanted an artistic medium that could communicate from 'skin to skin'.
The tattoo, although I didn't have one before the X's, seemed to me the ideal medium. A form of art that, combined with the meaning of my X's, is capable of rousing goosebumps in those who are confronted with it.
What do people say, when they learn the meaning behind your 40,000 tattoos?
One of the first sentences is exactly this: 'I didn't know, look, you gave me goosebumps'. And from there, a meaningful conversation can begin, or rather, it has already begun.
Talk us through the other projects at your Misoteria exhibition.
Misothery is a research work through photographic images, which aims to identify the common roots of contempt for animals, including humans, and for nature. Without a radical questioning of a world view based on the ideology of domination, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve lasting results.
What other projects have you participated in?
I have carried out numerous performative actions, often in front of a general public, not necessarily expert in performance art nor even vegan. Yet the reactions that I have been able to observe are deeply moving. Many people come to thank me in tears at the end of the performance by declaring their intent to change their lifestyle. Many of them have gone vegan.
What potential does non-verbal language possess in spreading awareness?
In my case I see at least three potentials:
a) The 40,000 tattooed X's attract people's attention, bringing them closer, intellectually and emotionally, to take a first step towards a possible encounter. I just remain open to their curiosity.
b) The language of the body, of the skin, is a universal language, capable of going beyond social and cultural differences.
c) A simple symbol like the X, a minimalist yet evocative artistic sign, has the possibility of being easily assimilated and replicated, contaminating many other artistic mediums and social spaces.
How else do you spread awareness of the vegan cause?
I wrote a book called Vegan Revolution (published by the editor of the most popular ecology magazine in Italy) and various articles in digital and print magazines, I usually hold public conferences and training courses on artivism and creative activism.
Why do you think that animals deserve equality?
My vegan choice occurred at the same time as a strong personal anti-racist commitment. Forty thousand is in fact also the number of migrants who have lost their lives, drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, from 2000 to today, trying to escape from despair, from misery, from wars. I believe that anti-racism and anti-speciesism are strongly intertwined. If we do not accept discrimination on the basis of the existence of different races, or of sex, or creed, I cannot understand how it is possible to accept discrimination on the basis of differences of species. My approach is radically anti-speciesist.
Why do you think society turns a blind eye to the animal cruelty that takes place each day?
I think it has a lot to do with the concept of Misothery mentioned earlier. Contempt towards other animals has also poisoned our own species, leading us to live in a so-called 'civilisation' where cruelty and oppression reign in the sunlight. Opening our eyes to the cruelties we commit towards other animals involves opening our eyes to the cruelties we commit also towards human animals. This is why veganism is so revolutionary. The most beautiful, non-violent and powerful of revolutions!
Do you think we will ever get through to society?
I do think so. If we fail to do it, we will be destined for a sad extinction. How can we achieve this? Through an awakening of consciences. Empathy cannot be imposed by force.
In your opinion, what is the greatest threat to the planet today?
The abrupt climate change is the greatest threat to the life on Earth. We know that industrial farming is one of the major contributors to CO2 emissions and that a plant-based diet will soon be a mandatory choice. Unfortunately, however, the level of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is already beyond the point of no return and without a technology capable of sequestering that CO2 already present, not even the best actions, personal and social, will be able to prevent a further and devastating increase in temperature. This should be communicated and there we should focus our world efforts accordingly.
How can people at home help to spread awareness of the vegan movement?
There are endless ways to spread awareness. My advice is to identify our 'everyday' personal talents and what gives us pleasure, and then to put this at the service of the cause of animal liberation and the vegan movement. If you like to swim, swim for animals, if you like to play music and sing, play music and sing for animals, if you know how to draw and do street art, put your street art at the service of movement... The examples and possibilities are really infinite. Let's do it!
Yup! This summer the 'In The Blink Of An Eye' tour will start. Hundreds of people have decided to become artivists themselves, having one or a hundred or thousands of 'my' X's tattooed on their bodies. It is an amazing growing community that has already been celebrated with an event at the Macro Asilo in Rome, one of the most important contemporary art museums in the world. My dream is to make it grow more and more and for this reason, together with Massimo Giovannini (internationally renowned photographer) who made splendid portraits of each of these people, we decided to transform In The Blink Of An Eye into a permanent tour. If you want to know more, please visit our website (intheblink.org) or my Instagram. We hope to arrive in the UK soon, too!
Do you have any more exciting projects coming up in 2021?
What are your hopes for the future, for yourself, for veganism and for the world?
I believe veganism offers us the chance to become the animal species we deserve to be. A species founded on empathy, on mutual cooperation, on love. My hope is that, until the last second of our life on this planet, this possibility will be within everyone's reach. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.