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Sue Coe: vegan-socialist illustrator

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This article is republished from an eBook series that has been made freely available.

By Jon Hochschartner

The contemporary British artist Sue Coe, whose work and public statements strongly condemn both capitalism and animal agriculture, is by all indications a vegan socialist. If an interview with the illustrator conducted in 2005 by Elin Slavick, now only available on an obscure blog, is to be trusted, Coe was reluctant to define her class politics, leaving that to others. However, I believe it’s quite safe to say she is a socialist, in the broadest possible sense of the word, meaning one who supports public ownership of the economy, whether emerging from an anarchist, Marxist or social-democratic tradition.

A great deal of Coe’s work, which is both horrifying and beautiful, focuses on the intersection of class and species politics. The cover image for her 2012 book, “Cruel: Bearing Witness to Animal Exploitation,” is a case in point. It features an emaciated animal, whose recently slit throat bleeds into a bag of money held by the stereotypical vision of a capitalist wearing a top hat. Beside him are equally large piles of money and what appear to be both animal and human skulls together. In a similar illustration by Coe, entitled “Butcher to the World,” a bloated businessman emerges from a mountain of animal corpses gripping sacks of cash which are dripping blood. In her piece “Animals Are the 99%,” which shows a number of animals suffering human violence, Coe appropriates the slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement to suggest humans have a similarly exploitive relationship to animals as the rich have to the poor and middle class.

According to a 1996 feature in Eye Magazine, early in her career in New York, Coe was drawn to the American Communist Party. This involvement informed her art. “Funky English punk art does not work in a tenant/landlord struggle,” Coe said. “The art school mentality is not effective with people who don’t have the luxury of trying out artistic styles, of breaking up a picture. What does work is a very realistic depiction of that struggle.” In the same article, Coe described capitalism as an “economic crime.”

In a 1993 article in the Baltimore Sun, during a conservative era when many believed there was no alternative to the free market, Coe offered an unapologetically stark choice. “There are only two economic systems known to human beings; one is socialism and one is capitalism,” Coe said. “Capitalism will destroy itself — its contradictions will destroy it. Whether it will take all human beings off the face of the earth with it — that’s the question.” She went on to stress the importance of communal efforts, suggesting they were innate to human nature. “How come we’ve survived this long?” Coe said. “Because we cooperate. If we didn’t cooperate with each other, the human race would have been dead centuries ago. In fact, and this is a peculiar thing, we’re too good. That’s how come we’re exploited by a tiny minority of corporations who do what they want. We allow it to happen. We cooperate. That’s our nature — it’s not warlike.”

More recently, in a 2012 interview for Bomb magazine, Coe struck a similar note regarding what she saw as the inevitability of capitalist collapse. “We now have over ten percent of people unemployed, which according to any economist—even Milton Friedman—is revolutionary conditions,” Coe said. “That’s very unstable capitalism. Now capitalism, I don’t think can be fixed…But in its death throes, it’s extremely dangerous.”

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