Earlier this month, the first half of Abortion is Normal kicked off at Eva Presenhuber gallery in New York. Bringing together the work of over 50 artists to raise awareness and funding in support of accessible, safe, and legal abortion, the exhibition’s second half opened this past Tuesday at Arsenal Contemporary. Abortion is Normal was curated by Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol, and co-organized by Marilyn Minter, Gina Nanni, Laurie Simmons, and Sandy Tait in response to state laws passed restricting abortion and Roe vs. Wade being in jeopardy of being reversed. (Proceeds raised from the show will be donated in support of voter education and advocacy on reproductive rights, as well as Planned Parenthood PAC efforts in the upcoming 2020 elections via Downtown for Democracy.)
Featuring artists from a plurality of backgrounds, the exhibition speaks to the vastness of how abortion and bodily autonomy affect so many of us in different ways. “If there’s anything I want people to take away from the exhibition,” Wahi told Hyperallergic, “it’s that there are multiple voices in the conversation, and this conversation really does impact everyone; we all have something at stake.”
The show’s title and mission tap into a larger movement to embrace abortion rights and reproductive justice unapologetically. As author Jenny Brown writes in her 2019 book Without Apology, “It was massive feminist mobilizations, fueled by women publicly discussing what was once secret and stigmatized that won us the abortion rights we have.” Abortion Is Normal features artwork in this justice-minded vein, eschewing the focus on privacy, exceptions, and choice that have dominated the movement for reproductive rights over the last 45 years. Shout Your Abortion, the book and hashtag founded by Amelia Bonow, for example, aims to normalize the procedure through sharing abortion stories, and Viva Ruiz’s “Thank God For Abortion” (2019) subverts religious attacks on reproductive rights with clothing, banners, riot gear, and ornately decorated mannequins emblazoned with religious imagery and the words “Thank God for Abortion” in English and Spanish. A table at the exhibition featured glitter-encrusted t-shirts, buttons, and stickers featuring all three of these slogans for sale to benefit the cause.
Each piece in the exhibition contributes to a rich, shame-free counter-narrative to the repressive views on reproductive rights perpetuated by Republicans in power. In Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled” (2019), a pregnant woman stares the viewer dead in the eye as she clutches her stomach, a visceral reminder of how personal the experience of pregnancy is. Grandly towering over the room, Dominique Duroseau’s “Mammy was here: she equally acceptable” (2019) calls attention to racial inequities in reproduction and childcare, rooted in the history of enslavement. Composed of miniature perfume bottles filled with decanted period blood that the artist collected from menstruating people of all genders, Christen Clifford’s installation “I Want Your Blood” (2013–2019) juxtaposes the trappings of traditional feminine desirability with the often hidden (and shamed) bodily experience of menstruation. The blood used in Clifford’s work, as well as in Portia Munson’s “Menstrual Prints” (1993) series also highlights the arbitrary framing of abortion as an ending of life, since each menstrual period involves the shedding of uterine lining, which contains an egg that could have been fertilized and led to pregnancy.
Other works in the show illuminate parts of the picture that are given less attention within the mainstream abortion debate. Reinterpreting a 1930’s label from Puerto Rican produce sold in the U.S., Miguel Luciano’s painting “Barceloneta Bunnies” (2007), for example, addresses our country’s history of forced sterilization by referencing a Puerto Rico town targeted by such programs as part of the island’s population control policy. Elektra KB’s photo series “Queer Alterations for a Post-Nuclear Kin” (2020) is one of several works in the exhibition focusing on queer, trans, and gender nonconforming experiences of reproductive health.
Abortion Is Normal is very much a call to action. Wahi stresses the urgency of the show’s message in a presidential election year, and the importance of voting and having our voices heard. “Get out there and express yourself,” she says. “Even if you’re not able to vote, become active in this conversation, because whatever happens this year is going to determine what happens in the next four to eight years.”
Abortion is Normal continues through February 1 at Arsenal Contemporary (214 Bowery, Lower East Side). The exhibition was curated by Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol and co-organized by Marilyn Minter, Gina Nanni, Laurie Simmons, and Sandy Tait.