It was a full house at last week’s “Someone You Love” pro-choice art exhibition. The fundraising event, which took place on October 11th at the Copper House Gallery on Synge street, was a fundraising event in support of the Abortion Support Network, a UK based charity that supports women from Ireland and Northern Ireland travelling to the UK in order to access abortion services.
Organised and curated by Aifric Ni Chriodain, the pro-choice artworks on display were specially created by an array of Irish artists for the event, with many incorporating the theme of the Repeal Movement into their works. All works of art were on sale to the public in print form with the money raised going to Abortion Support Network.
Graphic and uncompromising in their depiction of the pro-choice theme, the 20 contributing artists were not afraid of raising eyebrows with their work. Their candidness paid off and the collection captured the absurdity of Ireland’s anti-abortion laws, cutting to the core of the political issue with a bluntness only be achieved by art.
One of such pieces was submitted by Larry Dunne and showed a drawing of the female uterus under lock and chain and circled by rosary beads. No doubt it was inspired by the “keep your rosaries off our ovaries” slogan made famous by the pro-choice campaign.
Another controversial piece by Dolce Merda X One Strong Arm was of a silver hanger against a plain black background. Powerful in its simplicity and austerity, it is a remembrance of the gruesome and unsafe procedures carried out by desperate Irish women in the last century.
My favourite piece of the evening was by Bronwyn Andrews. The photo showed everyday items laid out on a bed, the contents of a bag for an overnight stay in England.
Stark in their ordinariness, one visitor noted, they were all items that she herself had at home. It captured the message of the exhibition: abortion could be a necessary option for anyone, even “someone you love.”
Despite the solemnity of the works on display, people were in high-spirits. Rallying speeches given on the night invigorated the crowd, acknowledging the tremendous support in favour of the Repeal Movement, but with a cautionary reminder that there is still a lot more work to go. Proselytizing was completely dispensed with by all speakers. It was, after all, not a protest, nor an attack on the government but an evening shared between people on the same team and a celebration of that fact.
In his speech Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International, touched on some of the challenges and criticisms facing the repeal campaign. Most notable was his contempt towards ‘tone fleecing’, a suggestion that asks women to curb their anger when campaigning, the implication being that their anger would undermine that cogency and efficacy of their argument. He swiftly dismissed this as misogynistic “bullshit” claiming that “Women can be angry and respectful and coherent” and that “Angry women are not the problem…but the absence of anger [is]”. His words evidently touched a nerve and raised a spontaneous applaud from the crowd.
Another of the evening’s speakers was Julie O’Donnell, who bravely told the audience of her own experience travelling to Liverpool to access abortion services upon learning at 26 weeks pregnant that her baby had zero chance of survival.
Although I have heard and read numerous stories of Irish women in such a position this was my first time hearing it first hand. My hairs were standing on end as I listened to Judy recount the horror of her ordeal, her voice trembling as she described the feelings of loneliness, anger and helplessness that she suffered. Six years on, the turmoil she experienced was still evident.
The exhibition attracted a dynamic crowd, with the majority of the audience comprised of women as well members of the gay community. Given the demography of the crowd it could easily have been a rally for last year’s same-sex marriage referendum.
Just as women were the largest group of supporters in favour of same-sex marriage, it was evident on the night that the gay community have allied themselves alongside the women of Ireland. Both groups have been prejudiced and silenced by Irish law in the course of the country’s history, and it is heart-warming to see them continuously stand in solidarity with one another. Although women as a class make up half the population, we are divided on the issue of abortion and so the support of the gay community in the Repeal Campaign is as vital as ever.
Striking was the overwhelming presence of people aged under 25, a rarity at political events in Ireland. This newfound penchant for political-activism amongst the Irish youth is no coincidence.
Invigorated by the positive result of last year’s same-sex referendum, particularly here in Dublin, young people appear to have restored faith in one of democracy’s central theses: political power ultimately flows from the people and it is incumbent on the people to participate actively in the political arena. With the previously politically inert youth on its side, the pro-choice campaign is a force to be reckoned with.
The fundraiser was undoubtedly a success, with some prints so well received on the night they sold out. The buzzing crowd streamed out of the gallery ignited and rejuvenated, aware of the uphill battle yet to go but knowing at least that they had strength in numbers.
Prints from the night are available to purchase online at https://someone-you-love.myshopify.com/collections/all