We Animals, Martin Rowe and Jo-Anne MacArthur

by Jane O'Hara

We Animals, Jo-Anne McArthur

We Animals, Jo-Anne McArthur

I was happy to have the chance to catch Martin Rowe in Pleasantville, NY in Professor Angelo Spillo’s classroom at Pace University. Rowe’s presentation was a part of a series of presentations and activities at Pace University for their Earth Month celebration. I had heard Martin Rowe speak last year at the Compassion Arts Festival with the same program, We Animals, with his personal interpretation of Jo Anne McArthur’s photographs. Rowe is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Lantern Books and publisher of We Animals, as well as well as nearly 300 other socially relevant books. In We Animals, McArthur’s work reveals the barriers we have built which allow us to treat animals as objects as opposed to sentient beings. Her images document the plight of animals across global industries.

But it wasn’t a repeat presentation as it turned out - though that would have been fine - as Rowe’s presentation so richly investigates the depths of Jo-Anne McArthur’s important work. Rowe is a writer himself, and among many other accomplishments, he has a master’s degree in Religious Studies. It was this part of Rowe’s background that played a large part of this discussion of McArthur’s work the other morning. With her compositions and use of dark and light he drew parallels to religious works and enlightened us on how with this unique perspective McArthur shows us a completely different animal.

Martin Rowe's presentation on We Animals

Martin Rowe's presentation on We Animals

There is no end to my interest in McArthur’s hauntingly beautiful work. I have my own history with her. I was pleased to have her join the exhibit I curated of 13 artists in 2014, Beasts of Burden, first held at the Harvard Allston Education Portal Galleries. She will join us again when we go to our next destination in 2017 at Los Angeles’ National Museum of Animals and Society (NMAS). Martin Rowe and I share a strong interest in Jo-Anne McArthur’s work, along with her wide audience. The documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine is Liz Marshall’s powerful documentary focused on McArthur’s journey to record these ‘ghosts’ and get exposure for her revealing work. Not surprisingly it’s a tough challenge as so many refuse to report on these animals, even generally compassionate, truth seeking publications. Lantern Books, however, has published the book We Animals and it is a worthy tribute.

As an artist I unknowingly started to include one of McArthur’s images into my The Rabbit Hole painting, of a rabbit at the butcher. I found the image online and later discovered it was McArthur’s! When asked she generously allowed me to use the image in my painting and was pleased with the idea.

Rabbit Hole, Jane O'Hara

Rabbit Hole, Jane O'Hara

To have Martin Rowe give his unique presentation on Jo Anne McArthur’s work is so perfect. While her work certainly speaks for itself, Rowe’s insights bring attention to the historical implications of her point of view. In the religious artwork context and with his comments on the meaning behind a face turned away, or up, the use of shadows I was able to understand a new level of why these photographs are so important.

About this blogger: Jane O'Hara is an artist and curator whose paintings make visible animals in today's society; those adored, as well as hidden ones in captivity for our use. O'Hara is the recipient of the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award and the curator of "Beasts of Burden," an exhibit in which she is also a contributor, that features  the work of 14 artists whose range captures the complex ways in which animals have influenced our lives.