He Tattooed 40,000 X’s on His Skin to Protest Animal Cruelty
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because his body is an unforgettable canvas.
- Alfredo Meschi, one of Italy’s most prominent vegan activists, uses his body to make a point about the killing of animals.
- A self-described “artivist,” Meschi has also used his tattoos to call attention to sexual violence and migrants dying at sea.
Every second, 40,000 land and marine animals around the world are slaughtered for food. Italian artist and activist Alfredo Meschi, who looked at the statistics on animal killings four years ago, hasn’t been able to get this figure out of his mind ever since.
“I tried to freeze at least one second of that holocaust on my skin,” says Meschi, who tattooed 40,000 black X’s on his skin in 2016, when he decided to use his own body as his canvas and platform. In addition to his social theater projects, articles and books — most of which present an alternative view of society — Meschi speaks out about animal suffering with more than just words. The tattooing was a two-month process that took place at a tattoo studio in Sardinia. “I chose the X symbol because it is the sign we use on our to-do lists, when we are done doing something, to count something or to kill something,” the 52-year-old explains.
For onlookers, the effect is striking. “He has chosen an extreme and shocking form of activism,” says fellow vegan Giulia Zimei. “I think it can have a negative influence on public opinion of vegans, so people might think that we are some wacky persons.”
I want to make a skin-to-skin connection so that my skin provokes goosebumps on the other person’s skin.
By covering himself in tiny X’s from head to toe, Meschi has set an example for people around the world to follow suit — albeit on a less extreme scale. The photo project In the Blink of an Eye documents the collective Project X campaign with 220 people photographed by Massimo Giovannini. Some people have sent photos of their X tattoos to Meschi, which he showcases on his Instagram account.
Meschi’s appearance — in addition to his tattoos, he often wears a swordfish hook and a cattle tag in his ears — testifies to his unconventional personal transformation. The performance artist started his career in information technology, but it wasn’t his true calling. He was an amateur hunter and fisherman until five years ago, when he adopted a vegan diet and stopped using animal products.
Since then, Meschi has become one of Italy’s most prominent vegan activists. He promotes anti-speciesism, a philosophy that denounces the hierarchy that ranks humans above other species, at vegan conferences and festivals and holds art performances in Italy and abroad. The lockdown in Italy caused by COVID-19 has put most of Meschi’s projects on hold, but he has given some live-streamed speeches.
He argues that the fight for the liberation of animals should include the liberation of humans too, which is not always the case within the vegan movement. Meschi’s work challenges sexual violence, suicide, pollution and other global phenomena.
Meschi calls himself an “artivist” — a person who uses art to confront injustice. Two years ago, during an art performance in Italy, his X signs served as a memorial to the migrants who have died in the Mediterranean Sea. People, he says, react differently when they see his tattoos and comprehend what they mean. “I want to make a skin-to-skin connection so that my skin provokes goose bumps on the other person’s skin,” Meschi explains.
“It’s a wonderful way of using art to reach people by conveying fundamental messages. Images always come before words,” says Beatrice Di Cesare, an environmentalist and vegan activist from Milan. Di Cesare and Meschi met in 2009 but lost track of each other for several years. One day, Di Cesare saw on Facebook that a man by his name was giving a speech about the gift economy — a mode of exchange of services and goods between people without the expectation of monetary reward — at an animal rescue shelter. She didn’t recognize Meschi at first, given all the tattoos, but they reconnected and eventually decided to co-write a book, Vegan Revolution.
Meschi’s newest project is his Un-schooling Activism video podcast on Instagram, launched in April. Along with fellow Italian vegan influencers Giù Veg and Veganismo Logico, Meschi aims to teach creative activism and inspire others to use innovative tactics to spread anti-speciesism and vegan messages. “This school has no walls, but trees,” the intro text on Instagram reads. If the trio is successful, artists following in Meschi’s well-inked footsteps won’t need so many X’s to make the same point.
OZY’S 5 Questions With Alfredo Meschi
- What’s the last book you read? Tough Dogs Don’t Dance, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and Sex at Dawn, by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan.
- What do you worry about? I worry about abrupt climate change and a sixth mass extinction.
- What’s the one thing you can’t live without? There’s nothing I can’t live without because I appreciate myself as I am here and now. But it’s tough to imagine my life without my son or my dog.
- Who’s your hero? I have many heroes, ordinary people who have done something very precious. One of them is a girl who no one in Italy knows about. Her name was Zina Nicole Lahr — she died in 2013 — who had been creating stuff out of garbage and doing creative recycling and bringing positive change to her community.
- What’s one item on your bucket list? I’d like to be able to purchase an airplane ticket to the U.S. to promote Project X.