Animals on trial, disability discrimination, and what it means to be human | Arts And Leisure

The pandemic hasn’t stopped curators Nina Bozicnik and Mita Mahato from keeping the Henry Art Gallery alive like never before.

At the end of October, the Henry began holding events for his own Colloquium “Bugs & Beasts Before the Law”, a series of discussions inspired by the 2019 experimental film with the same name. In the two previous events of the colloquium, UW doctoral students, professors and invited guests dealt with questions of whether “justice is a process or a result” and “which documents limit, relate or liberate subjectivity”. At the last event, the participants discussed “what it means to be human”.

On this third and final discussion, I was struck by the curious energy generated by reviewing topics ranging from arts and science to discrimination against disabled people to animal rights. I was even more surprised that the discussion managed to hold out through the uncomfortable zoom pauses that we’ve all gotten used to.

After an introduction by Bozicnik, Colin Dayan (an English professor at Vanderbilt University) started a conversation about bullfighting and chickens on trial. UW professors Phillip Thurtle, Joanne Woiak and Radhika Govindraajan (who traveled from India) followed with their own unique contributions and perspectives.

Participants immersed themselves in the history of animal experiments in the Middle Ages, in which even a chicken could be tried for crimes. The absurdity of bringing animals to justice was far more nuanced than I previously realized – and these nuances are particularly prevalent in today’s racial America. The dichotomy humans have made between animals and ourselves has been used by society to suppress different groups of humans by placing them in a category closer to the thin line that separates humans from animals. The origins of slavery in the United States, for example, depended directly on whites comparing the black people they had enslaved to cattle in an attempt to rationalize their inhuman treatment.

In an interview with Bozicnik, she discussed why she felt so strongly about the discussion issue at this third event.

“The way humans have been categorized has excluded different groups of people from this category, and this legacy is confirmed and continues to be reproduced in our legal system as well as in other systems and structures that shape society,” said Bozicnik. “I think that the very question of who can be considered fully human affects racial differences, but also other differences in our human family, such as abilities or other forms of differences that are excluded from being counted as fully human.”

Throughout the event, the professors returned on the topic of Bozicnik. Woiak, of the Disability Studies Department, mentioned how activism in support of disabled people is needed to justify that this group has more rights than animals.

Henry’s associate curator for public and youth programs, Mita Mahato, also discussed her view on the final question of the colloquium.

“I think one of the conversations that came up again and again during the planning of this conference was the idea of ​​animalizing racially marginalized groups and other marginalized groups and how these metaphors of the ‘beast’ apply to these bodies,” Mahato said. “And so there are also some considerations, and we think deeper about our relationships with other animals and with each other.”

This last part of the colloquium “Bugs & Beasts Before the Law” offered a new and fascinating perspective on forms of discrimination among people.

According to Bozicnik, the colloquium is Microsite will continue to be an ongoing resource for the public. As soon as they are able, the curators plan to personally host a screening of the original film, “Bugs & Beasts Before the Law”. At the moment, however, anyone interested can participate in the discussion and share their own thoughts on what it means to be human.

“A nice result, if we can’t meet in person for this colloquium, is that we’ve thought about how we can present some of these ideas and create some of these connections between our scientists and artists,” said Bozicnik. “This resulted in the microsite that summarizes these beautiful, short essays by our contributors and contains all the recordings of the conversations … which will be continued as a website for ongoing visits.”

Reach contributing writer Abbey McIntire at [email protected]. Twitter: @abbeymcintire

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