A friend sent me and a few other Los Angeles-area people a message a few days back about this local visual artist—Joe Sola—and his recently opened solo exhibition, A Painted Horse by Joe Sola, at TIF SIGFRIDS in Hollywood. According to a recent Huffington Post article, Sola was inspired by a horse he saw painted like a flower at the Kentucky Derby a few years back.

The gallery’s write-up on the exhibit goes out of its way to explain how well Riba, the horse, is being treated, stating that she “will only be in the installation for opening hours.” They continue:

“For the duration of the exhibition she will be shuttled to and from her loving home in the San Fernando Valley by a professional horse wrangler who will look after her general health and provide her with fresh water and choice hay throughout the day. During the exhibition she will receive daily Reike treatments to both measure and support her well being. The artist, working with a leading professional animal groomer, used creative grooming hair dye specifically designed for use on animals. Only four visitors at a time will be permitted into the gallery to view the exhibition.”

On a friend’s Facebook post regarding the exhibition, someone tied to the show/gallery explains further: “Both the gallery and the owner of Riba could not love animals more, we would never dream of putting an animal in a situation where he or she is not completely comfortable and happy.”

We could go back and forth until the end of time, I imagine, as to what we think the animal thinks about all of this. The closest analogy I can personally make is how my dog would feel if I did this to him. I have no doubt that I could use these special vegetable dies designed for animal use to get him looking pretty funky in a similar manner without harming him or causing him much discomfort. And he might even like it—as far as I could figure, since he can’t tell me—assuming we gave him enough dog treats and told him he was pretty enough, Pavlov-style.

But I think that’s all a bit beside the point and gives clarity to the gallery + artist’s need to oversell the lack of cruelty by hauling in an animal grooming specialist and Reike practitioners. It’s not about physical harm; it’s about exploitation and humiliation. We’d never do this to a human who couldn’t communicate consent or lack thereof because it would be a clear violation of their free will and violent disregard for their humanity—it’d be active humiliation of another being.

Violence doesn’t have to include the use of physical force—though I imagine Riba would have walked away if given the option to do so while being painted and prepped for this exhibit and likely had to be physically restrained. Point being though, violence can and does, every day, involve both physical force and/or power to harm or deprive a being of its rights.

One can argue humanity—or a similar concept—is one that remains unique to humans and even that animals have no inherent rights. But that’s where my ilk in the animal rights + ethical vegan community would diverge from anyone holding such a point of view. That’s why we don’t eat animal flesh, it’s why we don’t partake in animal milk or other products made from it, and it’s why many of us see this exploitation of animals for the sake of humans’ entertainment as abuse and violence, regardless of all the good intentions, well-meaning words, carpeted floors, air conditioning, and channeling of equine healing energy in the world.

It’s violent and wrong.

The exhibition itself ends after this Saturday. I’m not usually one to wish negativity on others and certainly don’t for anyone involved in the show, but here’s hoping it did terribly and travels nowhere.

Photographs by Joe Sola.