Eager to explore and celebrate individual physicality and shared humanity, Homer Council on the Arts in partnership with Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic invited artists to participate in “Unto Ourselves – Radical Autonomy,” an exhibit on display through March.
“This exhibit came from the desire to express ourselves in the wake of the Supreme Court decision decimating Roe v. Wade,” Jenna Gerrety, HCOA’s marketing and administrative assistant, said. “We also wanted to use this moment to create a positive outlet for our community.”
An artist, Gerrety has three pieces in the exhibit.
“Vulnerability” is an acrylic painting of a vagina on cardboard, inside a cigar box painted red and with a glass front.
“I painted on cardboard to emphasize fragility, inside a cigar box with a glass front to represent accessibility, and the red paint ties into the fact that we bleed,” she said. “As women, it doesn’t matter what we wear or do, we are always vulnerable. Alaska has one of the highest rates of sexual assault, and with the fall of Roe v. Wade, we are not guaranteed an avenue to control our body.”
“My Choice,” a painting mounted on an embroidery hoop, shows a woman’s exposed stomach and a tattoo-covered leg.
“Here I’m expressing my freedom, that I can exist in whatever shape I want,” she shared. “I don’t have to shave. I can have tattoos. I don’t have to let anyone else control me.”
Her painting “RBF,” which stands for “resting bitch face,” is also painted on an embroidery hoop and is her response to being told “You would look so pretty if you smiled.”
“I used to think that I always had to be pleasant or present myself as being ladylike or unbothered if a man was bothering me or someone was trying to get something from me,” she said. “Now I realize that I don’t have to be nice and act as if everything is fine. I’m not going to nod and smile along.”
Gerrety chose embroidery hoops because she appreciates the feminine symbol they represent, with women traditionally the ones doing embroidery work.
Donna Martin has been interested in women’s rights since she was in college in the 1960s. Her piece “Woman” is a watercolor-and-pen drawing of a woman with her eyes closed and arms crossed over her chest.
“I can’t believe we’re still fighting the same fights for equality and equal pay and rights over our own bodies as we were 60 years ago,” she said.
Inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Martin included many of Ginsberg’s slogans, as well as others, written in the woman in her painting’s hair and along her arms, leading with her own: “Keep your politics off my body.” Others include “Reproductive Freedom,” “Self-determination,” “Gender Equality,” “Bodily Autonomy,” “My Body is My Own” and “Free To Be Me.”
Yvonne Leutwyler’s “Syzygy” is acrylic and felt tip on cardboard, showing a female figure watching the phases of the moon while surrounded by excerpts from “The Thunder, Perfect Mind,” a text discovered in Egypt in 1945. Leutwyler was inspired to depict both women’s connection with the moon cycle through their menstrual cycle and the divine female believed to be the author of the text.
“’Syzygy’ is a term used in astronomy, meaning a conjunction, as well as an opposition, or a union of opposites and during a new moon and a full moon, the moon, sun and earth are lined up in syzygy,” she shared. “The author is unknown, but believed to be the voice of a female divine power and the text reads as a monologue, exploring duality and ambiguity of opposing forces, divinity and individuality.”
When invited to participate, artists were provided with prompts around the theme of bodily autonomy: What is bodily autonomy? Who gets to have it, and why? How do you define and protect your boundaries? Are there parts of you that no one has access to? What would it feel like to be completely, radically free? HCOA dedicated a space where community members can share their own written responses to these prompts.
Fourteen-year-old Anna Spring’s “Lack Thereof” is watercolor and embroidery on canvas and shows a woman in a dress hanging in the air, her head comprised of bright clouds, her hands held up by thin ropes, and dark, menacing clouds above her.
“To me, bodily autonomy means control over your decisions and actions,” she said. “My piece is about how sometimes you feel like you are on autopilot, going through and living, but not making choices, just going.”
Brianna Allen’s “American Mother” is an oil-on-panel painting of the Statue of Liberty. Instead of holding a torch, the statue is holding a child’s cup in her raised hand, while her other hand clutches a face mask, toys, car keys, a cloth, an iPad in a child’s case and a red-white-and-blue wind wand.
“I find it ironic to boast the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom during our country’s regression in freedom, specifically for bodily autonomy,” she said. “The American mother lives within a country that explicitly glorifies freedom, yet the systems of care which we largely supply are not valued or supported by our culture.”
In Morgan Dwyer’s “Moon Dancing,” graphite on paper, a woman is dancing on a moon, another is draped over a moon, and another is sitting, looking out at the moons. About to have her first baby, a daughter, Dwyer sees this painting as an accountability moment as a parent.
“I was aiming for the woman looking out to be a maternal figure, an older woman or mother, and the two dancing figures are younger girls that she is loving and encouraging,” Dwyer said. “Pretty consistent thoughts on my mind have been how am I going to help her love herself and know her rights for her body and for herself, and how I’m going to do that when I have struggled with those things in my life.”
Jane Rohr, KBFPC’s client services coordinator and community education and outreach coordinator, said the goal was to provide a space for community members to speak about autonomy and “what that means for themselves as well as to learn from others and support one another.”
“KBFPC believes that everyone has the right to have supported medical information to make decisions about their own health care,” she said. “We also see autonomy as interconnectedness, that autonomy is an individual idea, but if we all work together, then we can secure the idea of autonomy for everyone.”
Torie Rhyan’s “My Own” is a colorful acrylic painting on canvas that depicts a mermaid with her brain, heart, lungs, ribcage, uterus, ovaries and pelvis on display.
Rhyan described her piece through writing:
My thoughts are Magical
My Brain So Powerful
I would wear my Heart on the outside, beating loudly and proudly, instead of protecting it so cowardly
Sometimes I imagine swimming off with the waves as they say goodbye, the Ocean heals me in ways I cannot deny
All these feelings are my own and every single choice I make is mine and mine
All MY OWN
Kari Mult’z created “No Apology,” a knitted cap made from silk and baby alpaca fur, featuring tiny, interlocking uteri throughout.
“The uterus is a beautiful, hidden part of women that we don’t celebrate very often,” she said. “My idea was to make it something that’s seen and beautiful and given the respect it deserves as the original vessel. And while fertility is a big thing, so is the autonomy of having the choice in our bodies for what we want to do. I think it’s really important that people respect each other. It’s nobody else’s business what you do with your body and everyone should have the right to decide.”
Amanda Kelly’s “Self Care” is an oil-on-canvas panel painting showing a woman’s legs outstretched in a bath, and was inspired by self-reflection after an injury left her dependent on others and eager to make herself a priority.
“Being dependent on others to do physical tasks for me was very humbling, giving up a certain level of autonomy and dignity,” she said. “Taking a bath is one way I can exercise my autonomy in deciding what I get to do with my body and my time, and the reminder to prioritize taking care of myself.”
HCOA Director Scott Bartlett said he sees the exhibit as one way of inspiring dialogue around the issue of bodily autonomy and personal rights and freedoms.
“It’s been very rewarding to see the conversations and realizations that have come out of this exhibit with both the artists participating and visitors coming through our doors,” he said.
The exhibit is on display at Homer Council on the Arts through April 1. A portion of artwork sales will support KBFPC and their programs. To learn more about KBFPC, visit kbfpc.org.