Five female humans stood outside the Tate Modern in London last Saturday, being “milked” by machines. The women explained to passers-by that they are artificially inseminated every year to meet the demand for milk. Samples of this “Human(e) Milk” were available for the public to try.
The women were not actually being milked, and the human breast milk was just oat milk. The event was a piece of performance art created by Stephanie Lane, founder of SPECIESISM.WTF, and grassroots animal rights group RADICALLY KIND, founded by Claudia D’Ambrosio. Entitled “Dairy Is Not Human(e),” the demonstration aimed to challenge the notion that animals are commodities and highlight the ethical implications of speciesism.
“It’s mind blowing to find that most people have never heard the word ‘speciesism’ before, and the demo was super effective in educating members of the public about this,” Lane told Plant Based News (PBN) in an email.
“The power of art”
The problems of dairy production are not always apparent to people. Many believe it to be ethical because they mistakenly think it does not involve any animal slaughter (it does). But the exploitation of dairy cows also relates to the abuse of their reproductive systems.
By replacing cows with female humans, Dairy Is Not Human(e) made this aspect of dairy production visible. The women stood in underwear with their feet chained together and their breasts attached to milk bottles by tubes. They appeared to be covered in feces and blood to represent the violence of dairy production.
“Most humans naturally will have more empathy for their own species,” said Lane. “So using humans in this context was so powerful because it paved the way for connecting the next dot of compassion towards nonhumans in what seems a very linear way.”
Staging the event outside the Tate Modern was also a careful choice. Lane explained: “As a renowned institution dedicated to showcasing contemporary art and pushing the boundaries of cultural expression, the Tate Modern provides a fitting backdrop for an artistic exploration of speciesism.”
The strategy worked; according to Lane, quite a few people decided to go vegan then and there. Many others engaged with the performance with curiosity and wanted to learn more about the cruelty inherent to the dairy industry.
Pushing the boundaries
Lane already has a history of pushing boundaries in her advocacy for animals. In the summer of 2022, she put up billboard posters around London depicting a woman with milk machines hooked up to her breasts.
Lane told PBN at the time that advertising spaces in London were surprisingly resistant to the campaign. “It’s hypocritical, to say the least, that many of the prime advertising spaces in London advertise lingerie or bikini ads with highly sexualised young women, but find our current campaign ‘at risk’,” she said.
RADICALLY KIND also use human bodies to challenge society’s entrenched speciesism. Their demos have involved activists stripping to their underwear in public and holding signs about why compassion to all animals is sexy.