Organized by political action committee Downtown for Democracy, the ABORTION IS NORMAL show featuring work by powerhouse artists including Nan Goldin, Barbara Kruger, Marilyn Minter and Cindy Sherman opens today and is both a cultural event and a political call to action. Curated by Jasmine Wahi (curator, activist, speaker, and founder and co-director of Project for Empty Space) and Rebecca Pauline Jampol (curator, designer and co-director at Project For Empty Space), the exhibition will display work by Allison Janae Hamilton, Grace Graupe Pillard, Hank Willis Thomas, Chloe Wise and others. The show addresses reproductive rights, access and understanding. We spoke with Downtown For Democracy co-founder Gina Nanni ahead of the opening.
Can you tell us about the origins of this show?
Downtown for Democracy started with cultural activism, including political shows and other forms of protest in 2003, initially speaking out against the USA’s attempt to go to war in Iraq. At the time there was very little protest art happening. We wanted to learn about how we could get involved and inspire people to make the switch from talking politics over dinner to actually getting involved in the process somehow. Last year, the organization staged the Protest Factory, a show and series of events at Jeffrey Deitch in New York that got a lot of attention, and there was clearly a strong reaction from people wanting more. One of the curators of this show, Jasmine Wahi, was talking to Marilyn Minter, an active Downtown for Democracy organizer that day after news of the abortion ban in Alabama last year, and the idea for this show grew out of the Protest Factory.
Tell us what your hopes for the show are? Is it to raise awareness, funds, normalize abortion—is one thing more important than the next?
All of the above. Artists in the past were often asked to donate large artworks directly to a candidate, where the funds end up being a drop in the bucket. Many artists, both male and female have very strong feelings about protecting reproductive rights. As it turns out, it is a lot more empowering for artists to put work and money behind issues they support, not the candidates. Candidates change, but the issues are always there… People should be able to vote fully informed about the important issues.
What do you want viewers to take away from the exhibition?
A desire to figure out what they can do to participate in the process somehow, and help shape the way we talk about the issue. One thing that the right doesn’t talk about is that people for choice are not against having children or becoming mothers. Many of us are parents. The point often missed is that there is a time in ones life when you are ready to do that, and as Michelle Williams eloquently pointed out the other day, her life became what it is today precisely because she was in control of her own body, and was able to choose to become a mother at a time when she was ready.
What would you tell people who are wary about attending?
There is no reaction that is good or bad. Feeling something is what good art should evoke.
What was the response from most artists when asking them to take part? Did anybody really surprise or excite you in particular?
Almost every artist agreed immediately and enthusiastically. The title ABORTION IS NORMAL did raise concerns from some artists, though it is meant to cause a reaction.
The lesson progressives are still learning is to never take your eye off the ball
Has there been anything in particular that you feel has fueled the current upswing in activism and the political becoming so loudly personal?
Downtown for Democracy was very active voice in culture and politics in the mid-2000s. After those busy years, we all burned out and the PAC was put on a hiatus. The catalyst for all of this activity is Donald Trump and the conservative agenda. The lesson progressives are still learning is to never take your eye off the ball—we thought we could sit back and relax during the Obama era, and that couldn’t have been more wrong. More and more people in the US are learning that we all must participate in the process somehow if we want to end up with a country reflecting our values.
ABORTION IS NORMAL runs 9 to 18 January at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, and then 21 January to 1 March at Arsenal Contemporary. Artworks are available on Artsy and all proceeds from sales will be donated to Downtown for Democracy, which will split the funds between Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights-focused voter education and advocacy.
Hero image courtesy of Allison Janae Hamilton and Downtown For Democracy