"People aren't too fond of 'em, but I think there's actually something quite endearing about them," says scientist Stanley Keen of the endangered mammal called the Obeast. In a video clip, Keen and a colleague track and shoot an Obeast with a tranquilizer gun, so that we may learn more about these reclusive creatures.
Rewind: The first thing you should know about the Obeast is that it doesn't actually exist. It's part of an art project by Rachel Herrick.
I am an artist and fat activist. I have a project that confronts and satirizes fat stigma by recasting fat people into the role of an endangered genus of mammals called the obeast. (The obeasts are all me wearing muumuus.) The work takes the form of a pseudo museum called the Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies which has traveling educational exhibitions, videos, and a website.
The obeast project is part catharsis, part shaggy dog joke, and part accusation. My intentions as an artist are ambigious upon first encountering the work, resulting in some controversy.
Since the intention of the undertaking is unclear, those faced with her work find themselves offended at first. Art critic Daniel Kany writes:
Because the Obeast is an obese young woman, I was mortified when I first saw the installation, because I could have been looking at one the most offensive works of art I had ever seen. I hadn't seen the name and did not know that the artist was a woman. I can't remember the last time my moral sensibilities had been so thoroughly challenged.
Through the photography and the videos, however, it became clear the Obeast is the artist herself — an obese woman who looks exactly like her self-portraits in the "museum."
Allergic to self-pity, Herrick subtly relates that obese Americans have to deal with people who routinely confuse physical largess with diminished mental capacities. Part of the joke is that Herrick plays no heavy-handed card, and leaves bigots to twist in the wind of ignorance — never the wiser despite her razor-sharp educational and informational professionalism.
Herrick's work is definitely an interesting take on fatphobia and the othering of the overweight. Sometimes our society does treat larger people like a different species, like strange animals, untouchables or undesirables instead of fellow humans. But what would happen if every diet and TV show and scare tactic worked? Or if some bizarre disease or famine suddenly struck? And there were no more fat people in North America? Would we miss them? Woud we speak of them fondly? Would we realize that "them" is us?
Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies [Official Site]
Rachel Herrick [Artist's site]
Art Review: MECA Students Deftly Open Door To New Horizons [Portland Press Herald]