It’s almost impossible to look at the work on view at Georgia State without feeling shocked and shaken on some level. That shock may be expressed as righteous indignation and refusal to be hectored or swayed or it may be guilt at the many ways all of us deny inconvenient truths. Whether you buy what Coe is selling or not, I found it hard not to admire the absolute, single-minded urgency of her mission in “The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto”: to protect animals. She makes her point about our inherent hypocrisy where our relationship to animals is concerned in several images that show chickens, fish and other creatures donning kitten or puppy masks, as in “Pigs Wear Cat Masks,” hiding behind the identity of animals we protect and love.
Coe’s images take two tacks: one utopian and one nightmarish. The exhibition begins on the left, with a dark and despondent vision escalating in violence and cruelty. Lumbering men gripping fat stogies between their teeth or workers in gas masks usher terrified animals to their deaths in slaughterhouses: The animals are aware of what lies ahead, terrified and clawing for escape. The injustices are enormous in scope, but also small and ordinary, like the chef “Boiling Lobsters.”
Those nightmare images give way to Coe’s often sweetly clumsy and didactic images of anthropomorphic cows, pigs, chickens and sheep with tender, glossy eyes living in a kind of utopian harmony. They walk upright, carrying banners proclaiming “Vegan” and “Meat Free Every Day.” In a flashback to the appeals of our earliest memories of childhood, of animals as friends and helpmates, with agency and a mission — in other words, like us.
Raising tough questions, “The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto” shows Coe’s status as a still very relevant artist, demanding that we peel back the veneer of our society and look frankly at its heart and guts and the degrees of violence we will and will not tolerate.
“Sue Coe: The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto”
Through March 17. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Free. Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design Gallery, 10 Peachtree Center Ave., Atlanta. 404-413-5230, http://artdesign.gsu.edu/artgallery.
Bottom line: This British artist creates radical appeals to empathy in her animal rights prints laced with a righteous fury.