In The Wake Of Alabama Abortion Ban, Artist Paula Rego’s 1998 Art Series Highlights Its Repercussions
- IWB Post
- May 17, 2019
With Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signing an abortion ban, the doctors performing the procedure can now go behind the bars for 99 years, for simply providing a healthcare service that one in four American women obtain at some point in her life. The draconian bill has resulted in a worldwide uproar stirring a movement to boycott the law.
The bill makes abortion a crime at any stage of pregnancy, which does not even exempt pregnancies from rape and incest. However, exceptions are only made “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly.”
As the stringent bill takes away women’s agency, the 1998 work of Portuguese born artist Paula Rego, named The Abortion Pastels, has been trending over social media, which was back then created in response to a referendum to legalise abortion in Portugal that was defeated.
Born in 1935, Rego was brought up in a repressive, middle-class Portuguese set-up, where women were not encouraged to do anything. With a childhood that emphasised on women being obedient to men, a lack of dialogue about puberty and sexual abstention, Rego expressed her longing for freedoms through her artwork.
In the words of John T Noonan, “Birth has almost everywhere been celebrated in painting. The nativity has been a symbol of gladness, not only because of its sacred significance. But because of its human meaning- “joy that a man is born into the world.” Abortion, in contrast, has rarely been the subject of art. Unlike other forms of death, abortion has not been seen by painters as a release, a sacrifice or a victory. Characteristically it has stood for sterility, futility, and absurdity.”
When her series was exhibited, Rego shared, “Naturalism is very out of fashion, but I do not care. These silent paintings with their grave answers will resist.”
Each canvas of Rego’s series depicts painful images of women practicing unsafe abortion that does not show guilt or shame on their part but instead, inflicts strong gazes in the direction of shame onto the system.
Paula Rego’s abortion series – made in response to a referendum to legalise abortion in Portugal, 1998.
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