Art Project Paints Thanksgiving Turkeys as Friends Not Food

Food art may normally depict how delicious its subject purportedly is. Artist Cheryl Miller, however, is working precisely against that model. Just in time for Thanksgiving, her recently-resurrected project, “46 Million Turkeys,” aims to recast the birds as individuals and honor the unique personalities that, for her, make them much more than food.

Painting turkey portraits of her own and opening a call for submissions as well, Miller first exhibited the ongoing project in her home state of Maine in 2013. Since then, “46 Million Turkeys” (which takes its name from the estimated number of birds that will be consumed this Thanksgiving) has amassed around three million works, some of which she plans to show this holiday season at Evolve, a vegetarian restaurant in Washington D.C.

Submissions from the project’s 2013 iteration feature the birds depicted in a variety of mediums, something that thrills Miller, believing that it reflects the unique characteristics of the turkeys themselves. “I wish everyone could spend some time with turkeys and other animals who are raised solely for food,” Miller told the Huffington Post. “Most people would be surprised to learn that these animals are unique individuals with amazing personalities who are capable of forming bonds with humans.”

Miller’s keen interest in turkeys as friends rather than food stems from six months of volunteering at a care center for livestock in 1998 called Farm Sanctuary. Since then, she’s been “absolutely smitten” with the birds and her project is inspired by a desire to “put a face on each bird, emphasizing that each bird is an individual.”

Miller’s hopes to bring the exhibition to a new city each year, spreading her message about turkeys, and perhaps even duplicating the project with other undervalued animals as subjects. “I plan to launch another community participatory project about rats,” Miller said.

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