Medium: Acrylic on canvas, Fluorescent Acrylic Paint
Size: 40 x 40 cm
In October 2020, mass strikes and protests took place in Poland against the tightening of the abortion law, which slowly also became a mass anti-government movement.
During the time of October's strikes, I was back in the United Kingdom, however, my mind and heart were together with all the women in Poland. I watched all the news with concerns, pain and disbelieve.
"I have one live, one body and the universal right to decide about it."
As Poland pass a new abortion law that amounts to a near-total ban on terminations, including in cases where a fetus is sure to die soon after birth, the country's biggest protests in four decades have erupted since communism, with Polish women challenging church as well as the state. This was a breaking point for me as well and my own view as a woman, and what it means for me to be one. I have never felt so horrified and empowered. The action of Polish Women woken up the strong woman, the feminist, that I already was, but felt silenced.
ARTISTS ON THE BARRICADES!
Women's Strike in the artist's eyes:
That is just a tiny tip of a mountain of artworks created. Support was flooding from everywhere, even famous celebrities from abroad. All support and voice was and still is needed.
I was contemplating and philosophizing on the topic for a really long time. Questions that arose was more of what should I do really as a woman, how and if can I even help in any way, what and how should I do it. As it is not an easy topic and I didn't want to put the wrong meaning into it. However, there was one image from the first days of strike in October, posted on Gazeta Wyborcza Instagram, that struck me. It was the picture of a red hunger held up. However firstly a fist, in front of the police cordon:
For me, it was speaking the unspoken, secret that is known by all, but unallowed to be named aloud. The abortion ban by the government didn't mean the abortions will stop, it will only push towards the reemergence of self-induced abortions.
A twisted piece of wire isn't just a symbol of dangerous abortions; it's a symbol of inequality. - Consider the Coat Hanger (2012) by Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic
Women can use many different methods to self-manage (or self-induce) an abortion. Some are safe and effective, while others are dangerous to the health of the woman and/or ineffective at terminating a pregnancy. Here are a few of the at-home remedies undertaken by desperate women when abortions were a crime:
described taking ergotrate, then castor oil, then squatting in scalding hot water, then drinking Everclear alcohol
hammering at your stomach with a meat pulverizer
going to an illegal abortionist
The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous "coat hanger" — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in – perhaps the patient herself – found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it... However, not simply coat hangers were used. Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion – darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off. - gynecologist Waldo L. Fielding in a letter to The New York Times
I started with painting the same image, however as I was working on it and researching, more ideas started to float in.
Fist a representation of the polish flag.
Another idea is the sleeve of the coat become the shape of a vase. As the vase symbolism in the art can represent an immersive world, and it also stands as the maternal symbol, in this regard, it is positive because it is about nourishment of the flowers that it holds.
The most famous flower painter was no other than van Gogh, being recognised mostly for his sunflowers. However, I stood upon his painting of Gladioli from 1886 and one of his letters in which he said [LINK]:
"women by no means always understand delicacy, any more than humour, and while one certainly ought to act with delicacy, this sometimes leads to misunderstandings."
I agreed with van Gogh, women understand delicacy. To society, it seems that because of their knowledge of delicacy and nourishment they themselves appear delicate. When seeing all those brave women on the streets of Warsaw during the strikes, I couldn't think of delicacy but the power they hold, pride, strength and knowledge. They were the army, the soldiers, the heroes, I was/am proud to be associated with.
Through the lens of the corrupted, religious and patriarchal world of Poland, this enormous army of violated women, seems like female gladiators, the gladiatrix. Like the woman named "Mevia", hunting boars in the arena "with a spear in hand and breasts exposed." Some regarded female gladiators of any type or class as a symptom of corrupted Roman appetites, morals and womanhood.
What was happening at the time for a few months in Poland, is an unimaginably long list to describe. The number of hate crimes, disgrace, violence, corruption, misogyny is mind-blowing. The Strajk Kobiet was definitely not staged to be the female gladiators to entertain the emperor and the public. However, it was a fight for women rights and healthy-legal abortion access, especially lower classes. The Gladioli, sword-shaped leaves and spikes of brightly coloured flowers symbolize heroism. That meaning dates all the way back to Roman times, when gladiators fought to the death in the Colosseum, and the name itself comes from the Latin word 'gladius', which means sword. Because of their association with gladiators, the gladiolus flower meaning is strength and integrity, as well as remembrance. The Colour red on the other hand symbolises in general romance, passion, love and as well as aggression.
Work is still in progress...
(2020). 'Sex is not a crime': the women protesting Poland's new abortion law. The Guardian. [LINK]
(2020). 'This is War': Poland’s battle for abortion. BBC [LINK]
All-Poland Women's Strike. Wikipedia [LINK]
Why Are There Protests in Poland? New York Times [LINK]
(2020). Sztuka jest kobietą. Artystki i artyści na Strajku Kobiet. Szum [LINK]
Strajk kobiet oczami artystów! LabelPunks [LINK]
Strajk Kobiet. STRASZNA SZTUKA.[LINK]
Rosen, R. (2012) Consider the Coat Hanger. The Atlantic. [LINK]
Honigman B, Davila G, Petersen J. Reemergence of self-induced abortions. J Emerg Med. 1993 Jan-Feb;11(1):105-12. doi: 10.1016/0736-4679(93)90021-x. PMID: 8445179.
Self-induced abortion. Wikipedia. [LINK]