You are What You Read

By Nance Broderzen ©June 13, 2008

A Costa Rican artist, Guillermo Vargas, starved a dog to death
in a gallery in Nicaragua.
“You are what you read,” he glued in wide kibble letters
on the wall behind the dog,
the dog chained in the middle of the gallery,
a bowl of kibble just out of his reach

Vargas named the dog, Natividad,
after a man in recent headlines, killed by guard dogs.
Natividad the dog, diseased and starving
died after just one day of display.

Vargas’ ploy blasted all over the globe
via internet. Millions upon millions signing petitions
denouncing him. “He is no artist. He should not be
allowed to ever display again!”

I actually rolled my eyes and refused to give it any attention
at first, didn’t want to give Vargas a morsel,
but he was everywhere, kept coming into my inbox
or front paging my favorite blogs,
so I signed, with the herd
two-million five-hundred-fifty-one-thousand two-hundred-fifteen to-date on the petition I signed.
There are more petitions.

I signed, thinking, “Vargas should be chained in a gallery
and starved to death, himself!
This installation is not worthy of anything.”
Gut, heart response,
immediate response.

I knew nothing of dogs in Costa Rica.
Nothing of dogs in Nicaragua.
As I began to watch petition signatures multiply,
with a growing haunting in my gut;
Had I betrayed a brother artist, Vargas?
I don’t know anything about his world!
So I spent about twenty-three hours studying the status of dogs
in Costa Rica, the U.S., and Nicaragua.

Costa Ricans love animals so much
they refuse to follow the U.S. Model
of what they call “Kill Shelters.”
Three to four-million dogs and cats, half who go in,
are euthanized in the U.S. shelters annually.
Costa Rica pushes sterilization.
Several altruistic teams are dedicated and seeing some results
but where dog populations drop, cat populations grow wild,
like in Los Angeles,
with stray dogs all but eliminated since the 80s,
I had to trap 15 cats in the 90s, who were multiplying under
the building I managed, and drive them
one by one, to the “kill shelter.”
Believe me—a heart wrenching task.

In Nicaragua, they use poisoning or club dogs to death,
no laws protecting animals,
four dogs to every human in some neighborhoods.
Say fifty humans live on your city block;
imagine 200 dogs running wild and free
starving, diseased,
adults paying emaciated children to catch emaciated wild dogs,
adults clubbing them to death on street corners.
Here in the U.S., they euthanize behind closed doors,
in Costa Rica they have more vets per capita than any other nation
with dreams to gain control by sterilization alone.

And I think of this artist, Vargas, from Costa Rica
he goes to Nicaragua where they
poison and club dogs daily,
where they starve guard-dogs half to death to make them meaner.
Vargas hires some experienced kids to catch a very sick one,
and chains the dog, too sick to eat anyway
just out of reach of food,
writes, “you are what you read,” in kibble on the wall.

We are food.
The man Natividad was attacked by dogs as prey.
We are food.
We can feed the poor, the feral.
No one attempted to feed Natividad the dog;
no visitor stepped forward
It takes longer than a day to starve to death
but Natividad died a day later.

And we, by the millions condemn the artist, the messenger,
ignore the message; ignore the millions of dogs euthanized
in the “Kill Shelters” of the West,
the millions of dogs starving in Nicaragua;

I paraphrase from a U.S. field worker writing of Nicaragua:

“unbelievably skinny with ribs and hipbones sticking out, almost grotesquely in some cases…no owners …no families…no particular people to take care of them. None receive veterinary care of any kind…they scavenge food wherever they can…in garbage, from the forest…fruits, insects, and carrion…”

It takes time to peek under the rug of reality—
took me twenty-three hours to see that Natividad, the dog,
died on the cross at that Nicaraguan gallery
for all the feral dogs and cats of the world;
All the millions hidden and dying
in the “kill shelters” of the Western world,
all starving, diseased, then poisoned and clubbed dogs
dying in the third world,
and for the millions of litters born every day into
a humanized civilization where they suffer and starve,
where natural predators who keep the balance
are mostly endangered, mostly destroyed.

I was part of the herd when I signed,
but now I am wolf or wild-cat
in danger of human rage against me,
I fear what they’ll do to me, think of me
as I praise the artist the herd abhors,
fear almost to the point of censoring myself from writing that I
praise Natividad the martyr, the savior of cats and dogs,
praise Vargas, whether Judas or God,
for trying to show the truth to the Art patronizing elite
of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
They are food, we are food; we the well-fed,
signing petitions that critique esthetics,
while holding our kibble just out of reach.



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