Animal Cruelty and the Horribly Misguided ‘Art’ of Tattooing Pigs

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Modern Farmer recently profiled Andy Feehan and Wim Delvoye, two artists best known as the guys who tattoo pigs. Living, breathing, oinking pigs. But it’s not animal cruelty. It’s art!

Feehan, who started tattooing pigs back in the 1970s, explained that his original intention was to bring awareness to the plight of pigs in captivity.

There are currently more than 65 million pigs on factory farms in the U.S. They are intelligent creatures; as intelligent as dogs if not more so. And gestation crates that confine pregnant sows are some of the cruelest measures used in captivity.

“I wanted to extract them permanently from the pig factory,” Feehan said in Artlies magazine in 2000.

Delvoye started tattooing pigs in the 1990s, inspired by Feehan. “He decorated swine with everything from images of daggers to Disney princesses, and has showed live tattooed pigs at exhibitions,” explained Modern Farmer. “Eventually he took the experiment a step further, establishing an ‘art farm’ in Beijing, where pigs were raised exclusively to be tattooed with his artwork. The pigs were killed and their flattened skins sold to customers who display them as works of art. The industrialization of his work became a commentary on art-industry demand.”

I love pigs so much that I haven’t (knowingly) eaten any part of one since I was a teenager. It seems to be the best way to show my love. You know, by not forcing them to suffer before I gnaw on their cooked flesh. I love tattoos, too. My right arm is covered in them. But here’s where Feehan and Delvoye get the combination so terribly, terribly wrong.

“I believe the manner in which I had the pig tattooed was as humane and painless as possible . . . My intention was, in addition to making them art, was to save their lives,” Feehan wrote in an email to Modern Farmer.

But that’s kind of like putting a pig in a cage on Main Street to bring attention to the animal’s suffering; it doesn’t free the pig, it just turns her into a spectacle. And when we sensationalize animals (or humans), we stop relating to them. “It probably just reinforces the prejudice that animals exist for us to use — if not for meat, then for art,” author and animal rights activist Peter Singer explained to Modern Farmer. “It may be better for the pigs he tattoos than the fate that would otherwise have awaited them. Taking these pigs out of meat production will just mean that other pigs are bred to suffer. ‘Art’ is no excuse for failing to show respect and concern for animals.”

We don’t need tattooed pigs to explain their plight or show the similarities between pigs and humans (there are many!). What we could use, however, are more people with tattoos of pigs on their bodies, so that we can always be reminded that we are who we eat—suffering, humiliation and all.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.