Activists, artists, and animal-lovers Sunaura Taylor and Sue Coe sit down at Moo Shoes to discuss propaganda, animal rights, and Coe’s new book, Cruel.
Sue Coe is best known for her paintings and drawings of animals in slaughterhouses and factory farms, but her work examines social justice issues ranging from union struggles to the civil rights movement, from prison abolition to rape. Coe’s images have the urgency of someone trying to save a life, and in a way that is what she is doing—drawing attention to the death and exploitation that happens daily all around us in an attempt to awaken our compassion and move us to action. Coe’s newest work, Cruel, is a harrowing and heart-wrenching examination of animal cruelty in the meat industry. Coe takes us into the slaughterhouse with her. Armed with her pencil and sketchpad, she allows us to be present with these animals, who are usually viewed as nothing more than a future meal, in the last moments of their lives. Coe’s images often take on the dark humor of political cartoons and her graphic imagery sits burned into one’s brain—as any successful piece of propaganda should.
I met Coe at Moo Shoes, a vegan shoe store on Orchard Street in Manhattan. It was an unusual place to do an interview, but as Coe had just celebrated the book release party for Cruel there a few weeks prior, it seemed fitting. It turned out to be a welcoming and quiet place to talk.
Coe’s passion for heart-breaking subjects doesn’t stop her from being a delightful, kind and funny woman to talk to. When I met Coe she was wearing a flowing black dress that matched her long black hair. Her attire was accompanied by bright red lipstick, which, along with her gentle accent and sweet tone, gave her the distinct look of some radical anarchist Hogwarts professor who had been edited out of the Harry Potter books.
We immediately began joking and ranting about the ins and outs of the animal rights movement, and before I knew it, our time was up and we had barely touched on Coe’s work. We did a follow up interview a few weeks later over the telephone and were equally silly, ranty, and loquacious. What no doubt could have been a depressing conversation between two people deeply worried about injustice in the world, was actually more like, as Coe described it after reading the transcript, “two drunken anarchist sailors in a bar.”