Adel Abdessemed’s Don’t Trust Me Exhibition Cancelled

The San Francisco Art Institute recently cancelled an exhibition by the Paris based artist Adel Abdessemed called “Don’t Trust Me”. The controversy surrounding the SFAI exhibition involves 6 looped videos of animals being hit in the head with a sledgehammer. The animals being killed include a sheep, pig, horse, goat, deer, and ox.

Here’s part of a notice left on the SFAI website here..
“Soon after it opened, the Abdessemed exhibition became the subject of an orchestrated campaign by a number of animal-rights groups, including Animal Liberation Front (ALF), In Defense of Animals (IDA), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). One result of this campaign was a parallel onslaught of explicit death threats and threats of sexual violence—as well as racial, religious, and homophobic slurs—against SFAI staff members and their families. The swift escalation from controversy to credible threats has regrettably forced SFAI to make a decision unprecedented in its 137-year history.”

I did a quick search for the videos online, but couldn’t find them (and am probably glad I didn’t find them). I saw some still images and they looked pretty gruesome. Just do a Google search for “Adel Abdessemed +Don’t Trust Me” and you should find some stills if you MUST see them.

Is it art? I don’t think so. I think they’re just animal snuff films created in order to shock. I have seen more shocking videos on PETA though.

And I’m sure that many of those that are so outraged by the killing of these animals happily drive through McDonalds or KFC without giving a second thought to the way the animals on their burger were killed. We have distanced ourselves so much from the killing of animals for food that we barely even recognize meat as living animals that were killed for our consumption.

So maybe Adel Abdessemed does have an important message to give with his Don’t Trust Me exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute. Maybe the people that are so angry at the films don’t want to be reminded that their beef came from a healthy, living cow that had to be killed. I just think that so many “animal lovers” are really big hypocrits, and I include myself in this category as I like to think of myself as an “animal lover” yet I continue to eat meat. So we love the animals that are cute and cuddley and relate to people in some way, but we eat the ones that are on our burgers.

I think I’m talking myself into being a vegetarian, which is probably not a good idea right now as I’m invited to a BBQ tomorrow. I’m a walking contradiction.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. I guess that’s why I want to become a falconer/ hunter one day, to learn how to kill, dress and cook my own prey. Sounds gruesome, but remember this disconnect with nature and where your food comes from is only 1 or 2 generations old. I bet most readers grandparents remember killing chickens on their family farm- with their bare hands, then plucking the feathers off. Or having the man of the house kill deer, then dress and cut up the carcass. That’s why I am a meat eater, because I am willing to learn how to do these things. I do love animals, but I understand this whole “nature” thing and the circle of life. And I’m willing to be a part of it.

    On an art note, no this isn’t any more art than the guy who put a starving dog in the corner of a room and told no one to feed it until it died. For “art”. As the poster says, this isn’t art, this is shock value. Respecting the balance of nature and animal cruelty are two very different things.

  2. I don’t support artists using animals like this to make a statement, but do support using film footage from an abbattoir to make a point.

  3. While brutally killing animals in the name of “art” is absolutely inappropriate (regardless of any message the artist might be trying to send), so are the tactics being employed by animal rights groups. Explicit threats of physical and sexual violence against museum employees and their families can NEVER be acceptable. I mean, why should anyone buy their “respect animals” message when they clearly don’t respect people?

  4. I covered this story on April 1 and treated it as an April Fool’s gag. It isn’t the only controversial video in the show: there’s a nude punk singer singing an “elegy”!

    When it comes to my meat, I want quick dispatch for the animals. I’ve seen footage of cattle slaughtered by means of a bolt gun behind the ear and they drop immediately. I should be so lucky to go like that.

    But never again a salt-beef sandwich, because I’ve seen footage of how cattle are killed the kosher way. They’re pushed into a large wheel, turned upside down and have their throats cut, so their blood can be drained.

    I wouldn’t touch shark-fin soup either, because living sharks have their fins cut off and are thrown back in the sea to drown slowly.

  5. Yep Claire, you got it right!

    Char – there’s nothing gruesome sounding about what a hunter does. I’d argue that gruesome comes in when someone kills for lust just to inflict pain and/or slow death simply for the sake of it for example.

    Lastly I want to comment about the hypocrisy of a great many (extreme)animal rights advocates, vegetarians, etc. that preach what they preach, yet still participate in using by-products that come from animals which are used in everything from processing food itself to making cellophane and wax paper.

    Of course, to call ‘Don’t Trust Me’ art, is absurd or is it? Where is the line drawn? Who says what is and isn’t? This leads us to that “age old” question of What is Art? I for one find that this particular work by Abdessemed, if you can call it that, is NOT art.

  6. Was this footage he directed and filmed specifically for the exhibition or to make a point in relation to animal rights..Obviously not the latter so I certainly do not support the artist’s rights to exhibit his work in a public place. Are there no laws in that area for such actions.

    Then again if it offends people they also have the right not to view it support the work…

  7. Char, imagine how many vegetarians there would be if we all had to kill our own animals. I know I wouldnt be allowed to eat meat as I couldnt even kill a fish the last time I went fishing. Killing a cow or even a chicken would be near impossible for me.

    A hungry stomach and the drive to survive would probably change things for me though.

    Corrine, I wonder if Abdessemed used the animals as food after they were killed, and if we would find that acceptable?

    Whatever way we look at it, it’s shocking to see a living thing killed with a hammer.

    He probably should be working for PETA as their videos are out to shock (which I think is fine as they get their message across).

    Ian, them sharks having their fins cut off and thrown back in are pretty gruesome. The people that eat them deserve to choke on them, and the guys that use them all deserve to go (I think theyre used as an aphrodesiac in asian countries)

    Matt, I agree. A lot of people are vegetarian and animal lovers only when it’s convenient for them to do so. I guess it’s good on many levels that people do eat less meat though.

    The artist created public debate and got more publicity than most artists get in a lifetime, so in some ways the work has been a success.

  8. No, it wouldn’t alter my view since what happens afterwards doesn’t justify the way they were killed and used for art.

  9. You can find some images of the videos here:

    The Magasin, in Grenable (France) is where all those videos are being shown now, after that horrible censorship hit the exposition of such a great artist. I also recommend to read a little of the Bio of this artist, to all of the people that criticize him, so maybe they can understand where all that interest for the politics and the violence comes from.

    By the way, Char, that information of that artist that put a starving dog in the corner of a room and told no one to feed it until it died, has been demonstrated that was a lie.

    We have to try to know, before we dare to judge.

  10. RE: “And I’m sure that many of those that are so outraged by the killing of these animals happily drive through McDonalds or KFC without giving a second thought to the way the animals on their burger were killed.”

    While I can’t speak to IDA, I can tell you that in my experience, many of the active, most-likely-to-protest PETA members are vegans, meaning they don’t eat or wear any form of animal products. No milk, no eggs, no leather, no honey, nothing. And I believe that ALF leans very much in the same way, so I truly doubt that any of those particular people were munching on KFC – a company that PETA has been actively protesting for YEARS – after this.

    The reason you see such awful videos on PETA’s website, is because they literally take undercover documentary video within corporations that conduct animal testing. This is a far cry from torturing and killing animals in the name of art.

    While I don’t like to say what is or is not art, and I am against censuring artists, as a vegetarian, I do find the concept of these works to me morally repugnant. Maybe Abdessemed does deserve to display his work, but there is a time and a place. Maybe a very avant-garde, contemporary gallery would be more appropriate than a main stream institution?

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think most people would argue and/or agree that this video is completely out of line.

    Just to comment on what Heather Hope writes:
    “While I can’t speak to IDA, I can tell you that in my experience, many of the active, most-likely-to-protest PETA members are vegans, meaning they don’t eat or wear any form of animal products. No milk, no eggs, no leather, no honey, nothing.”

    That may very well be i.e. vegans, but they do use products that are of animal by-products.So, they really can’t keep their hands so clean. Hence, the “undercover” videos are also completely out of line.

  12. OK, what next? Maybe we should start killing people and display the killings. Hey, it’s art! Right? I mean, come on, humans ARE animals. It’s perfectly OK to kill animals for pleasure, for display, for art – therefore, it’s PERFECTLY OK to kill humans as well.

    Pretty soon, we’ll start talking about the artistic merits of the death chambers in Birkenau, the aesthetic qualities of a guillotine and we’ll be slaughtering, in intricate and complex manners, humans. And human rights groups who will oppose our artistic expression will be called extremists…

    Oh, don’t you just love the way mankind evolves and adopts finer and more elegant ways of artistic expression?

  13. Anonymous says:

    It speaks to the weakness of this guy’s art that it requires the brutal death of an animal to get any recognition.

  14. San Francisco Art Institute, so-called “enlightened” and “progressive” human beings, cry over injustice done to some groups they belong to such as women, gays, latinos etc. At the same time, they call “terrorists” people who are for the liberation of the world’s most oppressed beings, both in terms of numbers and in the severity of their pain. Unbelievable and sad, arrogance and speciesism at its worst.

    For those who use the same tired argument of “food chain” and “circle of life” to justify killing of sentient beings for their appetites, the argument which is as shallow as they get and has been logically disputed over and over again, I suggest to stop being ignorant and read some books about animal rights.

  15. Anonymous says:

    This horrid person wasn’t killing anything for food. Just personal enjoyment (and don’t even try to tell me he’s just taking a hit for the art world)

    I would never attend a museum or art institute that even considered putting something this horrendous and offensive up.

    People like this Adel should be confined in an institute for the violently insane to receive therapy for his obvious mental handicap. I don’t think psychopaths like this guy should be allowed to walk free like the rest of us.

    This is not art. This is just a sick person trying to get attention. There IS a line that can be crossed when it comes to art, and this is it. Like others have stated, where does it stop?

    More legislation for the protection of animals needs to be passed.

    (No, I do not support PETA)

  16. Anonymous says:

    Not to bring the whole issue up again, but thought someone should point out that one of the organizations campaigning hard against SFAI has actually admitted responsibility for fire-bombing the homes of two UC Santa Cruz researchers involved in animal research. So, basically, the organization more or less did to another school what it threatened to do to SFAI. Just thought people should know, especially those who criticized SFAI for taking down the show or saying that the threats weren’t real.

  17. Yes, PETA also loves to harass artists – those who use images of animals in their works, regardless of context.. As an artist who believes in free expression, I encourage others to stand up against PETA and their efforts to close down exhibitions of contemporary art about which they have no understanding whatsoever.

    PETA go to hell!

  18. Anonymous says:

    One more poseur who likes the label artist and is fed by the phony Marxist art critics who tell us their work is about banality, suffering, life and death, and the hypocrisy of people, blah, blah, blah.
    Animals should not be killed for art. It used to be that peopel who tortured and killed animals were considered disturbed or on their way to becoming serial killers. Now we have a a new name for them: post-modern artists.
    Many claim that they are exposing the violence and cruelty of the world in which we live. Some say it is about the hypocrisy of eating meat from factory farms. Like the art student from Ontario who tortured, disembowelled and decapitated a a stray cat and filmed the event for the entire ten or so minutes, and his defense lawyer clamed it was “an art project.”
    Just because there are thinsg we turn a blind eye to, it doesn’t mean every self-proclaimed artists need to teach us a lesson. How about exposing the West’s complicity in the starvatuion of children on the African continent? Should we take a starving infant, chain it to a gallery wall, refuse it water or food, or should we bludgeon it with a hammer?
    Which would make the better art project?
    Perhaps Mr. Abdessemed could inform me.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Animal lover speaking here. I have always been and always will be.

    Some people seem to think that these animals were killed just for the sake of art. He filmed this on a farm in mexico, and whether or not he was there with his camera, they were going to be killed and the way that they slaughter animals there is with a sledgehammer. All he was doing was documenting it.

    Besides all of that, it is violent and displeasing to see; no one wants to be reminded that these things do happen on a regular basis. I honestly don’t know whether or not it should be considered art, but I do know that Abdessemed has some serious ideas behind it, it wasn’t done just so people could see animals being killed.

    I also noticed something that a commenter Char said above, “this isn’t any more art than the guy who put a starving dog in the corner of a room and told no one to feed it until it died”. This accusation is SO wrong and it’s a perfect example of why it’s important for people to know the facts before formulating opinions! Guillermo Vargas found an emaciated dog roaming the streets that was going to die from starvation. He only had the dog on display for 3 hours at a time, and when the dog wasn’t on display it had food to eat (that Vargas had purchased for the dog). The dog didn’t die and Vargas never intended on killing it via starvation. After a day and a half the dog ran away.

    People are so quick to judge and assume things without knowing any background or true facts. You can’t always trust everything you see or read on the internet with so many rumors and false information flying around and its beneficial for everyone to educate themselves before jumping to conclusions and letting your emotions do the talking. Its sad to see a dog in such a poor state and its sad to imagine animals being slaughtered with a sledgehammer, but the sad truth is that there have got to be millions of stray dogs that will eventually die of starvation and animals are slaughtered every day.

  20. Anonymous says:

    *Correction, not 3 hours at a time, only 3 hours all together.


  1. What is Art? says:

    [...] art: What is Art? I think most people agreed that hitting animals in the head with hammers is NOT art. So, what IS art? Lets see what the animals have to say about [...]

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