Ruth Burke

Against Western Education
cow horn, polyurethaned book pieces, cheesecloth, fishing wire
48 x 18 x 48 in.

The kinship between women and farm animals is longstanding and as with many relationships that span over thousands of years, it is ripe with moments of violence, turmoil, comparison, and tenderness. In my work, I investigate the patriarchal structures that portray this kinship as a pejorative.

The Social Life of Meat (2018) is a split-screen video that chews on notions of domesticity, feminism, and questions how social interactions are mediated between species. An absent narrator verbally weaves text from archival sources: one of the first feminists writings (Wollstonecraft, late 1700’s) with verbiage from a social and dinner time etiquette manual, roaring with masculine ideas of duty and justice, also from the same time period. The narrator moves ambivalently between the two works and uses considerately-timed words and visuals to bridge the domestic experience of multiple species, essentially questioning the validity of women’s gained agency through the subjugation of other species.

Against Western Education is an earlier work and a response to the 200 Nigerian women kidnapped by Boko Haram in early 2014. Shortly after the kidnapping, I traveled to east Africa and sourced the cow horn and a portion of the books used in the work. Gender is an important factor in Boko Haram’s tactics, ideology and violent actions. Four years later, the terrorist group continues to revolt against the idea that any woman should be educated or have agency of their own.

When considered alongside the recent video, this work reveals an additional layer of subjugation in which animals and women are common victims of patriarchal social structures. Ultimately, the works consider the agency of women and farm animals in our contemporary world.

© Ruth Burke