“Picturing Pigs,” a short documentary about an arts advocacy project co-created by Professor of Art Shannon Johnstone, will screen as part of the Meredith College Documentary Film Festival on Sunday, January 28. (See article for more details on the festival)
“The billboard advocacy project features two billboards in eastern North Carolina on I-40 in the two counties that produce the most amount of pork in the U.S.,” Johnstone explained. “The billboards feature positive imagery of pigs – as sentient creatures who are full of love and deserve care and compassion.”
This project was sponsored by a 2023 Creativity Grant from the Culture and Animals Foundation. Johnstone started the project with Jane M. Casteline, and it has since expanded to include Teri Saylor (writer/producer) and Meredith alumna Camden Watts (filmmaker). Watts, a 2003 graduate of Meredith, will serve as the moderator of the closing panel discussion at the Meredith College Documentary Film Festival.
“Although the billboards are non-confrontational and share messages of compassion and kindness, rental space was refused by four separate billboard companies in North Carolina,” Johnstone said. “In response, we are creating a documentary film highlighting the difficulties and beauty in trying to bring stories of pigs and their advocates to light.”
In addition to the film festival, the project has been featured in Plant Based News, The Charlotte Observer (https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article279640874.html), and by the Culture and Animals Foundation.
Johnstone and Casteline wrote an academic article about the project and the depiction of pigs in the media. It is under review by the Journal of Animal Ethics. Johnstone has also presented the “Picturing Pigs” project at two international conferences: the August 2023 Oxford Centre of Animal Ethics in Oxford, U.K., and the November 2023 Australasian Animal Studies Association conference in Sydney, Australia.
Using Art to Advocate and Engage
Johnstone believes in using “art and beautiful imagery to begin a discussion about a difficult topic that engages people rather than turning them away. One of her previous projects, “Landfill Dogs,” used portraits to draw attention to dogs in the Wake County Animal Center, while “Picturing Pigs” aims to do the same for pigs in factory farms.
“By showing billboards of rescued pigs and depicting them as individuals who are complex sentient creatures full of love, we hope to offer a pig aesthetic that highlights the beautiful souls who are victims of industrial agriculture. Instead of showing the reality of the majority of pigs in the area, we call attention to the lucky few who are able to live the full extent of their lives and express themselves as individuals,” Johnstone said.
Both “Landfill Dogs” and “Picturing Pigs” use art in a similar way.
“‘Landfill Dogs’ used this same approach of love and compassion for homeless, looked-over dogs, many of whom were pit bulls. Instead of showing their reality, I showed what I imagined as their wishes and dreams. I think this approach was successful for the dogs and for the project because it invited discussion and left the viewer empowered. This is what we hope to do with ‘Picturing Pigs.’”
Learn more about this project at picturingpigs.com.