Mina Wright - Artwork and Profile
I have been an animal person and an aspiring artist for as long as I can remember. As a little girl, I read about animals obsessively, pored over their photographs in my Ranger Rick magazines, and cut up my father’s National Geographics to make collages. By middle school, I dreamt of becoming an animal artist. As a teenager, I declared myself a vegetarian, epic battles ensuing at every meal until I got mononucleosis, which my mother blamed on my diet; that was the end of that. Later when I went to college as an art major, the only subjects that interested me were animals, but the program in which I enrolled insisted I start with human anatomy. I dropped out and studied art history, instead; it would be years before I got back on track with both the art and the prohibition on eating animals.
Like so many vegans, I don’t know why I resisted my conscience for so long. I had my own children and raised them as meat-eaters, too, but filled the house with as many as five dogs and an equal number of cats at the same time, never focusing on the irony of doing so. I’m ashamed now that I was not supportive when my own daughters wanted to go veg; selfishly, as a single working mom making changes to accommodate them seemed another burden on top of everything else. They grew up and out, one by one left for college, and suddenly I had free time for the first time in 25 years. I wanted to volunteer, be helpful somehow, and first joined co-workers harvesting surplus produce for distribution to shelters and non-profits. Those sweaty Saturdays were rewarding and fun, and I learned enough to be curious about how our food system works (or doesn’t, as the case may be). Then came our 45th president.
Although I have worked in and around government for many years and thought myself engaged and informed, I’d never been an activist. 45’s election was like electroshock therapy to my conscience, however; I had to do something. I went to the Women’s March, and it was a compelling experience, hundreds of thousands of us joined in solidarity against a threat to common decency. I felt the need to plug into the resistance and to do so, joined Facebook, which I’d avoided since its inception. It was there that I learned while scrolling through political posts that newborns are taken from their mothers shortly after birth as standard practice in the dairy industry. As I continued to read more about the relentless abuse of animals that permeates virtually every aspect of every culture on earth, 45 began separating children from their mothers at our southern border, providing an unavoidable parallel. There was no way to ignore the ethical dilemma that appeared daily in the news: what was happening to humans on the border was no different from the misery of separation occurring every day on dairy farms. Making that connection was all it took to wake me up to what I knew all along: that animals were suffering unnecessarily, and I was complicit in their suffering because of my daily choices. I went vegan pretty much on the spot and have never looked back.
Later that year I started volunteering at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary because I wanted to do something more to advance the vegan cause; not harming animals myself seemed insufficient. A year of joyful Saturdays passed as I observed the 250+ animals at the sanctuary, getting to know and love them as I worked alongside people whose values align with mine. Learning their names (the animals’, that is!) was important to me, so I took pictures - lots of them - and learned their stories, too. Then it occurred to me that instead of my initial response to what I was learning - posting angry second-hand vegan content on social media (and alienating people in the process) - perhaps others might be moved to see animals as individuals with unique personalities, likes and dislikes, families and friends they love, and stories of their own that matter if I changed my approach and created content of my own. Since the idea of their individuality is central to my thesis, hand-drawn portraits seemed just the right method to underscore their intrinsic value; that animals are subjects worthy of portraiture simply because they are living creatures is implicit in every drawing. That’s how #portraitsofsanctuary was born; I had the idea, but then had to execute, and since I hadn’t drawn much since college other than occasional gigs as a substitute art teacher, that part - re-learning to draw - took some time. I’m still learning, and hopefully, always will be.
Artists are routinely cautioned against comparing their work to others’…that it’s a fool’s errand that will only discourage is true. I’m an amateur, have no illusions about the quality of my portraits compared to the work of professionals, but the portraits themselves are intended to serve as invitations to read the stories, not as stand-alone art. And while I realize that reading isn’t the strong suit of social media scrollers, I write them anyway because I believe there are still readers out there who might have tired of clever memes, may even be searching for information or even a little inspiration. I know that some of the portraits’ followers click through and like 10 at a time, but there is also a slowly but steadily growing number of people who regularly comment, share, and urge others to read the stories, which is gratifying.
Ultimately, my hope is that #portraitsofsanctuary will change hearts and minds, of course, and that people will be inspired to go vegan, as I did. Veganism is an ethical and moral stance that manifests in every aspect of my life; there are no shades of gray, no such thing as being “sort of vegan”. People seem to think it’s just about food, confusion that in part derives from the popularity of plant-based diets, but the contours of living vegan are very clear: commodification of animals, whether for food, fashion, transportation, recreation, entertainment, medicine, or any other purpose is morally wrong. Environmental, health, and spiritual benefits are all important bonuses, but at its core, being vegan is about recognizing animals’ rights to live free from harm.
My goal is to engage non-vegans with animal stories that are sometimes amusing, sometimes wrenching, but always informative for those who, like me, think of themselves as animal lovers but haven’t as yet understood the consequences of their choices. I stay away from blood and gore, which can be effective but isn’t an approach that’s compatible with my drawings, nor do I employ overt shame or insult (although I admit to letting my disappointment, disdain, and/or despair get the better of me and lapsing into an occasional rant) because I don’t think they are effective tools of persuasion. There are as many approaches to animal rights activism as there are activists, however, and each of us must use our talents to create positive change within our own comfort zones. Besides, I ignored my own inner voice for decades…who am I to chastise others for ignoring theirs? My goal is to educate, ask questions, and plant seeds of empathy and compassion that invite people think, question, and maybe even feel inspired to change. In the final analysis, veganism all about the animals…I believe their suffering must stop if we are to realize our collective dreams of a peaceful world in which the most vulnerable can prosper.