“Abortion Stories USA” at Lump Gallery is a powerful affirmation of reproductive rights

know about “Abortion Stories USA” at Lump Gallery is a powerful affirmation of reproductive rights

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Abortion Stories USA | Until Sunday, August 28 | Lump Gallery, Raleigh


At the corner of East Cabarrus Street and South Blount Street in RaleighPast the neighborhood barbershop and Baptist church, you’ll find the modest gray facade of Lump Gallery. Enter the gallery this month (perhaps ducking to escape the heat) and you’ll also find more than a dozen pieces of media art curated by New York artist, activist, and curator Rebecca Goyette. His subject: abortion stories.

A pink and green banner by Shireen Liane hanging at the back of the gallery marks that theme more directly, spelling out the words “Abortion without apologies.” It sets a bright and affirming tone for a display that is just that. There’s also Michelle Hartney’s “Mother’s Right,” an installation of 100 handmade hospital gowns on a rack (the gowns are borrowed from a larger exhibit of 1,200, one for each person who died of a pregnancy-related cause in the year 2013) ; Viva Ruiz’s jubilant music video “Thank God for Abortion Anthem”; and Goyette’s watercolors referencing her ancestor, also named Rebecca, who was hanged as a witch in the Salem witch trials.

The exhibition also has links with Abortion Stories 2022an interactive art and storytelling project founded by Cassandra Neyenesch and Carolina Franco that invites stories, according to the event description, from “absolutely anyone who wants to share their experience with abortion, regardless of whether they have been pregnant or not.”

On July 22, at the opening of the exhibition, some 30 people gathered at Lump for a listening session facilitated by Neyenesch, a New York-based artist. Nearing the close of the exhibit on August 17, Goyette will host a Zoom panel of artists and a session to share stories about abortion.

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“The positive effects of [sharing abortion stories] they are multiple,” says Neyenesch. “The stigma is released when you tell your story. There is witnessing and being heard. Especially for pre-Roe people, there is the record of your experience for history, because it has really been forgotten”.

That kind of sharing opportunity feels obvious and rare. Although one in four women will have an abortion by age 45, making abortion one of the most common medical procedures, it is rare to hear about it outside of the hush-hush tones.

In the days after the dobbs decision, this paradigm briefly changed on my social media, which emerged with personal stories, one or two from cisgender men, otherwise entirely from people who gave birth, about abortion and the ways it had changed, and in some cases saved, lives. But Instagram stories have an ephemeral air, disappearing after 24 hours, and even an Instagram post is designed by algorithms to be shoved under sponsored reel slots over hair gels and fat-burning creams.

Beyond those final weeks of June, the broad public backlash against the decision and its many future repercussions has subsided. Street marches have stopped for now and so have Instagram stories and infographics. There is an element of exhaustion to this ebb (climate change disasters and mass shootings have been fast on the heels of the abortion news) and also anxiety, as it has become apparent that digital surveillance can collect and sell your story. , even when, maybe, especially when —you’re not ready to share it yourself.

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Reproductive rights may have broad support in North Carolina—a recent Meredith poll in the state found that 52.6% of respondents support Roe’s, compared to 40% of respondents who want to restrict access, but even in an age of abundant content, the representation of those rights feels increasingly strained.

Goyette and Neyenesch, for their part, saw the writing on the wall long before political leaked the draft ruling of the Supreme Court. Neyenesch began hosting the first Abortion Stories 2022 event after state Bill 8 passed in Texas in May 2021, and it was just a coincidence that this year’s Abortion Stories 2022 festival on May 6 in New York Tompkins Square Park, fell four days after the dobbs filtration. Goyette, who has been making artwork for the Salem witch trials since Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in, displayed those artworks at the event.

“Meeting these women and hearing these stories really increased my sense of urgency,” says Goyette. “Now Roe vs. Wade it’s overturned. Supreme Court justices are in office for God knows how long, but that doesn’t mean giving up. This is the time to keep fighting.”

At that festival, Goyette met and began her collaboration with Neyenesch and was inspired to curate a show about abortion.

“When we get to look at the variety of stories, which also includes things like ectopic pregnancies, complications, economic reasons; there are so many, many reasons why people have abortions; it really brings you back to the idea that no matter what the story is, you should have the right to make your own decision,” she says.

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Movies have paid some recent storytelling dues: There have been, for example, a number of independent abortion road trip movies. Documentary film the janes, currently airing on HBO, tells the story of an underground network that, beginning in 1969, helped women access more than 11,000 clandestine abortions. And then there’s the body horror thriller. HappeningShowing in select theaters, it brings to life Annie Ernaux’s memoir of her violent struggle to access abortion care.

These movies are important, though I’ve found that watching a documentary alone in bed offers limited catharsis. We have been conditioned to experience reproductive health and abortion (and their attendant grief) as private and lonely issues. The tranquility of a gallery offers something more meditative and emotionally generative, and while Lump doesn’t see much foot traffic in the summer, sitting in public and being surrounded by stories feels communal.

During a time when North Carolina’s reproductive rights hang in the balance, Abortion stories USA it is an invitation to sit still and listen and, if you feel so moved, to speak.


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