I love to encourage my children in their individual interests by introducing them to inspirational, satisfied adults who may — in time — morph into role models or mentors. As soon as I saw the paintings of Jo Frederiks featured in the compelling opinion-piece Confessions of a Vegan by Sam De Brito, I knew that here was a woman with whom Brioni could relate.
When she greets us at the door, I immediately feel Jo Frederiks' warmth. She has been a vegan for twenty years and retains the fresh-faced beauty common among those who eat a plant-based, whole-food diet.
With a desire to use her artworks to raise awareness of animal suffering and inspire others to change to a cruelty-free lifestyle, Frederiks has ruffled more than a few feathers as her pictures reach a larger audience through social media. Complaints on her Facebook page have meant that Frederiks has been forced to censor her own publicity in order to keep her FB account active.
Some of Frederiks' paintings draw parallels between the treatment of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime and the exploitation and oppression of animals. Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, a Holocaust survivor who was sent to Dachau, wrote in his memoirs: "I believe as long as man tortures and kill animals, he will torture and kill humans as well — and wars will be waged — for killing must be practiced and learned on a small scale."
In today’s loose society of gross images, near-universal misrepresentation of truth and violence-saturated media, are her pictures so offensive? Art is supposed to elicit an emotional response, and Frederiks’ works certainly do that. She portrays the roles of multi-national corporations in food supply, the raw realism of animal cruelty, the symbolism of the mass slaughter of millions of animals and the sentience of animals who are conscious beings.
Live-animal exports from Australia have led to thousands of animals dying in transport, with no guarantee of cruelty-free processing for those still alive when they reach their destination.
Animal activists and vegans may understand the concepts, but I needed an explanation of some of Frederiks’ symbolic pieces. As we looked through the works, Jo shared her passion for animal-activism and her stories of growing up on a working cattle station in rural Queensland and how that affected her relationship towards animals.
As part of a working cattle-ranch family, Jo was expected to help with mustering, branding, de-horning and chopping off chunks of their ears (for identification and ear tags). At thirteen, she witnessed the terror of a steer after its execution was botched by an axe-wielding man. "The sad thing was," she explained, "he had a loaded gun next to him but preferred to use the axe to finish the job. He wanted to save the cost of a single bullet."
After initially assessing Jo's paintings, Brioni ran back outside to our bus to retrieve a book of her own pictures and one on endangered animals. She wanted to show Jo a picture she's drawn that depicts "animals with feelings".
Many of Frederiks’ paintings were drying from a coat of laquer or a belated signature, and her most valuable pieces are currently being framed off-site, but she kindly let us look through the paintings and drawings that were still sitting around her home.
The art supplies are packed away tidily as Frederiks concentrates on other, less creative tasks at the moment.
Frederiks' paintings are stacked against the wall of the storeroom adjacent to her sunlit studio, awaiting packaging and transport to the art gallery.
Entitled "The Lies Begin Early", this painting symbolises the aggressive marketing that faces even the youngest Australian.
As consumers continue to purchase products from companies that use palm oil from unsustainable sources, the habitats of jungle animals — such as orang-utans — are irreversibly destroyed.
Chicks that have been identified as male are an automatic casualty in the poultry industry, and we who purchase any chicken products are complicit in their mass slaughter.
Lady Justice hangs from a wire reading "violent ideology" alongside slaughtered animals for whom "justice" is often completely disregarded.
This painting of a cracked and bleeding Earth particularly catches Brioni's attention and imagination, so we discuss the possible meanings and how it makes her feel.
In others of Frederiks' paintings, the imagery is more obvious.
Haute couture — when manufactured from the carcasses of small animals — doesn't look as good as that made from their skins, although the outcome for the animals remains the same.
This painting was based on a photo taken at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Double-Trouble — this cat — was subjected to experiments which required surgeries on her ears, skull and brain, some of which happened without proper anesthetic.
It’s a horrible story, and this is only one account that has been publicly exposed. If interested, you can read the details here on PETA’s site.
A woman is branded and earmarked as 269 — the number signifying she is destined for slaughter. In June 2013, animal activists in Israel rescued Calf 269 from its pen and later publicly branded themselves with "269" in solidarity with the re-homed animal. The 269 movement has spread around the world as others have used the number to identify themselves as animal activists.
The photographs of Jo-Anne McArthur are an enormous inspiration to Jo Frederiks. She takes McArthur's photos — shot on site at slaughtering houses — and draws or paints the images, capturing the realism of the animals' suffering.
Based on another of Jo-Anne McArthur's photographs, this elongated painting is simply realistic, but no less devastating.
More compelling photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur supporting animal activism are viewable online. Browsing through them is an education in itself.
Fredericks' drawing "When will it stop?" pleads for humanity to change the way we think about animals and our disregard for their suffering and deaths.
Frederik has translated this sketch into a full-sized painting. It highlights the hypocrisy of animal-welfare groups that openly sacrifice one group of animals in preference for another.
"When will humans get it?" Is the chimpanzee asking the question, or is it Jo Frederiks? And if we decide who is asking the question, does it change our answer to it?
Many of Frederiks' earlier pieces are stunning images of animals, showcasing their inherent beauty. Some of these will be on display at the exhibition too. All the artworks will be for sale.
Two brilliant birds escape their cage.
Frederiks’ exhibition The Animal Holocaust will be at the Gold Coast’s RQAS Art Gallery from September 19-26. Her favourite quote from Gary Smith summarises the ethical vegan’s position as portrayed intensely in Frederiks’ body of work:
“When you share what you have learned with your friends and family members — who you deeply respect and love — they show indifference at best. You feel like you have come upon a genocide everyone is trying to hide and ignore. And you can no longer participate and no longer keep quiet. And then you are painted as militant, extreme, judgmental.”
As part of a family that incorporates a passionate vegan, I hear a variation of this message often. Brioni avoids contact with leather, fastidiously reads the labels on new foods and keeps her food utensils separate from those of her non-vegan siblings.
Although a vegetarian, I don’t feel the same passion for animals that Brioni displays, but I still find veganism compelling for ethical, environmental and economical reasons. After recently watching Forks over Knives, rather than asking myself “why is Brioni vegan?” my question has become “why aren’t I a vegan?”. The health benefits of whole-food veganism are impossible to deny.
Artists like Jo Frederiks and independent souls like Brioni allow themselves to feel such compassion for animals that they simply cannot consider eating or using their products. I wonder if one day I will be brave enough to make such a bold, loving move, too.