On Tuesday October 11th, a unique exhibition opened in the Copper House gallery, Synge Street. The Someone You Love exhibition featured pieces by over 30 artists, all focused on the subject of abortion and its continuing illegal state in this country. Open for a mere few hours, the impact it had on me and almost certainly to all of its viewers was a huge one. Although it was free, the event had to be ticketed because of the high demand.
Muireann Walsh and I were two of the lucky few to grab tickets before they were sold out. We arrived without much of an idea of what to expect, the picturesque, quaintly urban location of the gallery being the first thing that arrested our attention. However, the atmosphere inside the gallery was one of positive excitement, charged with something electric. We wandered slowly around the small space, viewing the pieces along with many others, many sporting the now-iconic Repeal jumpers and badges, stickers or beanies as well. It is clear to see that art has become a driving force for this movement, from the art on display on the walls, all the way down to the to the red donuts provided to guests with “Repeal” written in icing sugar.
The artwork on display was, without exception, powerful and extremely moving.
The cartoon-like quality of many of the pieces that were on display may be an ode to Maser, one of the original artists to get on board with the Repeal campaign. His motif of a heart with the simple “Repeal” message was adapted by the movement. Some of the pieces approached the issue with humour, for example a comic-strip piece by Naoise Dolan suggesting the various uses of the Eighth Amendment, i.e. a cinema companion or a doorstop; or a depiction of eight bananas by artist Sarah Maylor, seven of which were peeled with one sewn back up (the idea being that one needs to ‘re-peel’ the eighth banana). Other pieces toed the line between humour and seriousness, for example illustrations of a uterus bound in red tape or restricted by a padlock, drawn by artists Roisin Blade and Sian Conway respectively. Many pieces used the traditionally ‘female’ colours of pink and purple, but clearly stated that femininity was not to be messed with.
Much of the artwork was deeply serious and moving, for example a piece by Sarah Moloney depicted a female figure carrying the Venus symbol (a cross with a circle at one end, traditionally representing female) on her back reminiscent of Jesus carrying the cross. This provided a stark reminder to the viewer that women still bear the burden of their own gender and continue to struggle past oppression in a bid to be recognised as equal.
Some of the most striking artwork was the photograph series of a possible journey to England, like the one made by so many women annually and even daily. The stark reality of the early morning motorway, waiting room seat and evening return forced the viewers into the place of the women experiencing this journey. Another piece, by Bronwyn Andrews, simply photographed a suitcase with overnight supplies, the sanitary pad sparking off associations of blood and discomfort. Yet these items are familiar to every woman and man in today’s modern society- underwear, clothes and makeup. What makes this woman any different to us other than the journey she will have to undertake? This piece highlights the injustice against humanity in the eyes of the movement.
However, one of the starkest but most effective pieces in the exhibition was a simple illustration of a coat hanger on a grey background, calling to mind the primitive and horrific ‘coat hanger abortions’ of former days. There is no hiding from the terrifying symbol that this picture represents, forcing the viewer to acknowledge the extreme actions that women are taking. The artist removed themselves from the bright pinks and purples of many of the other artworks: the only ‘pop’ of colour on this black back drop is the silver glint of the clothes hanger. Like the Repeal campaign, the message of this art work emerges from a dark place of taboo and refuses to be ignored.
Prints of the artwork on display were for sale on the night, with proceeds going to the Abortion Support Network, a UK based charity.
Speaking at the exhibition, among others, was Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty International in Ireland. He gave a powerful, rousing speech in which he stated that Ireland “can’t wait another day” before repealing the eighth amendment. He spoke of the importance of tone and of anger to the movement, and indeed much of this anger could be felt in the artwork in the exhibition.
Despite this, the exhibition proved that there is a continued optimism towards the direction the movement is taking. The packed exhibition space, with many more looking for tickets after they were all gone, is promising for the Repeal movement. Support is a term that is brought up over and over, the artwork lending voices to those who have stories to tell. The artwork is lending positive anger to a movement that is making an impact on our shores and beyond.