Last January, artist Alicia Eggert erected a neon sign reading “Our Bodies” outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Inspired by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s 2019 call to “make art for the not yet and the yet to come», the work turned out to be prescient.
Monday evening, Politics released a leaked draft Supreme Court majority opinion saying it was likely to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. If the decision remains unchanged when it is released in June, the 98-page opinion, confirmed as authentic by Chief Justice John Roberts, would allow state legislatures to reduce access to legal abortion or ban it. completely, unraveling five decades of legal precedent.
The news has drawn ire from activists, artists and cultural leaders who have long championed reproductive rights in their work. Among them are artists such as Barbara Kruger, Nan Goldin, Nancy Buchanan and Laurie Simmons, alongside conservatives like Legacy Russell and Jasmine Wahi, who feared the impending outcome.
“Roe’s assassination should surprise no one. And if so, they didn’t pay attention,” said artist Barbara Kruger. ART news in an email.
Kruger’s work, known for its bold graphics that accuse publicity tactics, has become a symbol for feminist activists. One of these works, the artist’s black and white collage Your body is a battlefield (1989), is an image she originally produced for a women’s march in Washington in 1989 in favor of abortion rights. It has since become a staple of feminist and queer protests, and in December 2020 she offered Polish protesters a chance to circulate reproductions of the 30-year-old text collage to oppose restrictive abortion laws passed in the country. In the United States, she blames moderate and left-leaning lawmakers for the shift, saying they “rarely address issues of reproductive freedom with candor and power.”
“Their lack of imagination led us to this moment,” Kruger said.
A “painful and shocking” decision for a generation of female artists
The leaked draft opinion reignited criticism from experts that the United States is sliding into minority rule, a concern that has also been raised by many in the art world, including the activist group led by artists Guerilla Girls, which has lobbied museums to address gender-based discrimination since the mid-1980s.
“SCOTUS is now ECOTUS – The Supreme Court of the United States,” a Guerrilla Girls spokesperson said. ART news in an email, adding that “77% of Americans think Roe should be respected.”
Jenny Holzer, whose large-scale textual works have long appeared in public spaces to challenge displays of power, echoed this sentiment. “A handful of ideologues have no right to jeopardize the safety and well-being of women,” she wrote in an email to ART news.
Other precursors, such as Goldin, Buchanan and Simmons, recalled the time when abortion was not yet legal. Buchanan, a Californian performance artist with militant leanings, became involved with the LA Woman’s Building in the 1970s, a flagship of the Southern California feminist art scene. She expressed outrage at the court’s future decision.
“I’m old enough to have had several friends who had abortions that were then illegal,” Buchanan said. ART news in an interview. “One way or another, this current moment of national madness continues to spread.”
“It’s very painful and shocking to my generation,” said Laurie Simmons, whose work in film and photography uses dolls and toy caricatures to address gender roles. “We have been fighting for so long. We remember times before that were not pretty. The response will be fierce. »
Goldin, who is known for her pioneering style of diaristic photography, has for several years been exploited in activist circles. She recently led an effort to pressure the Met to divest itself of the Sacklers, who founded Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, which has been accused of exacerbating the opioid crisis in the United States. For Goldin, whose art and activism has focused on the vulnerabilities of the body, breaking news is urgent.
“The idea that a woman can not only be deprived of control over her body, but that her body can be criminalized when she exercises control is in itself criminal,” Goldin said. “This is the most chilling indication of where America is regressing.”
Young art makers and curators emphasize intersectionality and solidarity
Young leaders in the museum sphere are emphasizing intersectional issues in response to the possible reversal of Roe v. Wade. Jasmine Wahi, a New York curator who curated the 2020 “Abortion is Normal” exhibit, took to social media to condemn the authored position.
“This action of Christ-facist, straight white, Cis (mostly) men, is part of the fundamental constitution of this country,” she wrote, adding that the global majority “will be most at risk of devastating consequences. when Roe is overthrown.”
Legacy Russell, a curator who runs famed New York art space The Kitchen and author of the 2020 book Glitch FeminismTold ART news“the solidarity of movements is essential, through and beyond the arts”.
“Reproductive rights are climate change rights are civil rights are indigenous rights are black rights are Asian rights are women’s rights are LGBTQIA+ rights are Latinx rights are land rights. All are connected,” she said. Last month, Russell highlighted the glaring inequalities that still plague an art world that favors the ultra-rich class at a New York benefit night, calling the current climate a “feminist emergency”.
Artists and collectors in other parts of the country where abortion is out of reach are on high alert. St. Louis-based dealer and collector Susan Barrett, who focuses on works by women and artists of color, has witnessed the city’s predicament around this issue. Local Planned Parenthood, the only abortion provider in the conservative state of Missouri, has long been a target of abortion advocates, according to Barrett.
“St. Louis is a liberal city in a conservative state,” she said ART news. “We understand what we are up against.”
Eggert, the Texan artist behind the neon Ours sign backed by Planned Parenthood, pointed out that, for most women in Texas, abortion has already been pushed out of reach.
“The urgency of the matter was already very real,” Eggert said. ARTnews, adding that the speed of execution was one of the factors behind his choice of media. “The reason I work in signage is the speed and efficiency with which it can grab people’s attention. You can’t not see it. You cannot not read it.
San Francisco-based artist Michele Pred, whose works use women’s clothing on roadside billboards to advocate for reproductive rights, says she focuses on spreading information about access to abortion pills at an upcoming exhibition at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York. “We have to consider every body and all women’s bodies in this country.
For Eggert, Russell and many others, the themes that occupy their political work are invariably linked.
“Our bodies, our future, our abortions, you can’t have one without the other,” Eggert said.