I've learnt a lot about Banksy since moving to Bristol where the population seems to be divided between adoration and bitterness for the world-famous street artist. But then it's hardly surprising since controversy is integral to much of Banksy's work. Most recently he has been sparking conversation through his New York residency where he has produced work in his trademark stencil technique alongside several moving installations. One of these, 'Sirens of the Lambs', took to the streets of New York's meatpacking district on October 11th before touring the city for two more weeks.
A video, posted on the artist's website, Better Out Than In, shows a truck containing squeaking animal puppets and labelled 'Farm Fresh Meats' driving around, as well as reactions from members of the public. As a vegan, I'm always interested to see how people react when confronted with questions about their food choices and this video displays some common examples. A child runs away in horror like many people do when confronted with animal slaughter videos. Others try to touch the cuddly animals without fully understanding the context, like those who coo over farmed animals in fields without considering their inevitable and impending deaths. The butchers are shown to be laughing at it while plenty of passers-by just ignore it. There are also a handful of people who watch with sympathy and perhaps despair.
The choice of puppets is interesting; they reflect sentimentality, something which is often exploited by animal rights campaigns (find example) whilst also referring to childhood and the destruction of innocence. Even the physical nature of the puppets is important, suggesting that real animals have been reduced to nothing more than products to be manipulated by humans. The puppeteers have total control over these animals, ‘bringing them to life’ as such, which reflects industrial breeding and the idea of animals as commodities. This point is particularly interesting with regards to veganism because one of the core principles is that animals are not ours to use or exploit in any way.
It is not the puppets that I find most disturbing about this installation, but the haunting sound of the ‘sirens’. The shrill, loud noise clearly helps draw attention to the piece - perhaps the sounds made by real animals in this district have simply become part of the everyday cacophony. It's almost like a cry for help, alarming the world of farmed animals desperate struggle.
As with all of Banksy’s work this piece is intended to create a reaction, generate conversation and to allow people to question what society tells us. The question now is how do vegan campaigners successfully do the same thing?