2023-24 Common Seeing: My Body, My Choice? Art and Reproductive Justice

Alison Saar (American, b. 1956), Uproot (detail), 2022, charcoal and acrylic on vintage patched cotton picking bag and found hooks and chain, 108 x 27 x 4 inches. © Alison Saar. Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer


2023-24 Common Seeing: My Body, My Choice? Art and Reproductive Justice

January 20, 2024 to August 25, 2024

JSMA’s eighth annual Common Seeing exhibition is presented in partnership with the UO Center for the Study of Women in Society (CSWS) as part of the campus-wide, year-long “Feminist Futures” programming in honor of the CSWS’s 50th anniversary. My Body, My Choice? considers bodily autonomy, reproductive justice, and gendered and racialized experiences in healthcare through the works of three contemporary artists. Nao Bustamante, Judy Chicago, and Alison Saar address these issues of sexual and reproductive health in wide-ranging bodies of work spanning forty years. They draw our attention to complicated and problematic histories to advocate for a more equitable future. Chicago stated in a 2019 interview about her Birth Project, “I do not think art can change the world. I think art can educate, inspire, [and] empower people to act.”

This exhibition was organized by JSMA curators Adriana Miramontes Olivas, Danielle Knapp, and Alexis Garcia in response to the 2023-24 Common Reading selected book, The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, A Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—or Being Denied—an Abortion, by Dr. Diana Greene Foster. Reproductive justice positions the ability to control one’s own reproduction—the decision of whether or not to have children—as a human rights issue; it prioritizes the physical, mental, and emotional health and self-determination of patients.

Two serigraphs from Chicago’s ambitious Birth Project (1980-85) act as a celebration of women’s life-giving power and a pointed commentary on world myths of creation. She described this years-long collaboration as one step in her development as a feminist artist. Chicago, dismayed by the lack of images of birth in Western art history and contemporary art, invited 150 female needlepoint artists from around the country to reproduce her images of pregnancy and childbirth in a variety of textile media. As part of this multi-faceted project, she compiled hundreds of questionnaires from women who shared their own reproductive histories and experiences (including pregnancy, abortion, delivery, and aftercare) and made additional drawings and prints of this subject.

Chicana interdisciplinary artist and writer Nao Bustamante uses a wide range of creative strategies, from object-making to performance. Her ongoing project Bloom (2011-2024) addresses the history of gynecological care. In a series of paintings she envisions a woman- centered redesign of medical instruments that incorporate natural forms in the pursuit of gentleness, while her darkly humorous video, Gruesome History (speculum puppet), directly confronts that gynecological device’s origins through bold storytelling.

Alison Saar’s recent works Uproot and Plucked—a pair of double- sided paintings on vintage cotton-picking bags—respond directly to the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court and the historical and continuing impact of the lack of access to abortion care on women of color. These works were informed by sociological studies of African American herbalism and knowledge of self-induced abortions among enslaved people in the United States. Although Saar does not label her artistic practice as feminist, specifically, she explores recurring themes of duality, gender, race and racism, the African diaspora, and the female experience. Uproot and Plucked encourage viewers to consider the intersectional implications of access to—or restriction from—reproductive healthcare.

During 2023-24, the Center for the Study of Women and Society celebrates 50 years of enriching the University of Oregon community. In collaboration with departments and units across campus, the CSWS has developed a year-long program of speakers, symposia, exhibits, performances, and other events that speak to intersectional feminist research and visions of social justice.