‘Your body is a battlefield’: Roe vs. Wade and Barbara Kruger

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A woman’s head is divided by a line that divides her face into positive and negative halves. Above the image, an imposing text, expressed in the second person, says: “Your body is a battlefield.”

Artist Barbara Kruger’s famous collage, originally produced as a poster for the 1989 March for Women’s Lives on Washington in support of abortion rights, was the first image that came to mind when I read the explosive report on Politico that the Supreme Court is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a leaked draft of the majority opinion of the court.

I wasn’t the only one.

“Untitled (Your Body Is a Battlefield),” as the piece is officially called, immediately began appearing on artist accounts as news of Roe’s likely disappearance bounced across social media channels. social. This includes renderings of the original black and white graphic that Kruger made with the graphic (at the top of this post), as well as the screen-printed version cut out in a garish red that is now in the collection of the vast museum.

“I am so furious right now,” wrote Los Angeles-based artist Cassils. in an Instagram post that presented the image. “It’s going to criminalize routine health care for women.” Sacha Baumann, who publishes the LA arts newspaper complete bleeding, published the image of Kruger with an accompanying expletive. New York artist Deborah Kass added the subtitle: “1989. Fast forward to today.”

Also appearing on social media: lots of pictures of hangers.

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After all these years, Kruger’s image, a Solomonic view of a woman’s face, the halves of which, in their contrasting hues, appear as if they are being torn apart, continues to make an impact.

The graphic is still artistically relevant. It is the modern, feminist, second-person counterpoint to Uncle Sam’s insistence, “I want you for the US Army

In fact, versions of Kruger’s “Untitled (Your Body Is a Battlefield)” are currently on view at the complete artist career survey in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, entitled “Barbara Kruger: Thinking of you. I mean to me. I mean you” (with the first “you” and “me” crossed out), and on a related show on magers spray gallery, across the street from the museum.

That last exhibit also has another important graphic on abortion rights designed by Kruger. Created in 1986, it shows a negative image of a woman’s face over which is superimposed a block of text in capital letters that reads: “HOW IS IT THAT ONLY THE UNBORN HAVE THE RIGHT TO LIFE?”

I also saw that image appear on social media, shared by, among others, art writer Jori Finkel.

A negative image of a woman's face features all-caps text that reads:

Barbara Kruger, “Untitled (How is it that only the unborn have the right to life?)”, 1986, from an exhibition of the artist’s early imitations at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles.

(Barbara Kruger)

“Untitled (Your body is a battlefield)” also remains politically relevant: it regularly resurfaces as a powerful rallying cry when the autonomy women have over their bodies is questioned, hence its rapid materialization on social media on Monday night.

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We now find ourselves at a time when the majority of Americans support abortion rights, but a very vocal minority seeks to deny it. (A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week shows that 54% of Americans favor enforcing the law, versus 28% who would like to see it repealed, a margin of about 2 to 1). However, women’s bodies, and all bodies that have the power to give birth, are about to become victims of a political movement rooted not in an interest in preserving life, but in in the preservation of segregation.

As curator Robyn Farrell of the Art Institute of Chicago writes in the catalog accompanying Kruger’s show, it is no coincidence that Kruger used the second person in his famous graphic: “Using the pronoun itsthe artist involves the viewer, regardless of their gender, in the objectification of this anonymous person”.

This is not an abstract concept. This U.S. This staff.

Last month, i interviewed kruger on the occasion of his exhibition at LACMA. As I noted at the time, her work, over the decades, has addressed the very issues we continue to consider today: sex, power, race, the media, and a woman’s right to govern her reproductive organs as she sees fit.

“It would be a good thing,” he told me at the time, “if my work became archaic.”

Unfortunately, it is now more relevant than ever. I hope the next time I see Kruger’s image, it’s poster-sized, out on the streets.