L.A. Watson’s A Bird at My Table
Text by Abbie Rogers
Kentucky-based artist L.A .Watson uses paintbrushes, a camera, and even blown glass to illuminate our culture’s intersecting oppressions of non-human animals and women. Her photographic series “A Bird at My Table” consists of ten scenes in the life and death of a chicken (or turkey) in the modern poultry industry, from debeaking as a day-old chick through confinement, slaughter, sale in a grocery store, and eventually, consumption as the centerpiece of a festive family meal. Each of the ten scenes is rendered in black and white, with what at first glance appears to be a large, golden-brown roasted chicken in the foreground, a foreshadowing of the bird’s fate. On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that this is no cooked chicken, but rather a human body, back curved and elbows bent to echo the shape of the bird’s breast and thighs.
The body standing in for the bird is in fact Watson herself, crouched before the projected black and white background image. Watson’s work joins that of authors and activists Carol J. Adams, Marti Kheel, and others in viewing feminism and animal rights as interconnected, because “historically, both women and non-human animals have been treated as property to be bought and consumed – the former sexually, the latter literally. Today, both bodies continue to be transformed from someone into something by the economic and social structures of the modern world,” says Watson. She specifically chose to focus on chickens/turkeys in the “A Bird at My Table” series, because of their status as “the most marginalized of all domesticated animals… whose bodily agency has been denied by humans, who objectify [them] as… egg-laying/breeding machine[s],” according to her artist statement for the series.
L.A. Watson generously donated a large print to The Animal Museum’s collection in July 2012. The print is the culmination of the series, the image of a family saying grace around the dinner table where the artist’s body is the centerpiece of the meal. Watson’s relationship with the museum has since expanded; she co-curated the exhibit “UnCooped: Deconstructing the Domesticated Chicken,” which opened in 2013. More of her work can be found at her website, lawatsonart.com.