Curated by Kristen Clevenson.
As dozens of women began to step forward during the historic 2017 “Me Too” movement, they sought justice against those who had abused their bodies; justice after the fact. Still today, women are not offered the knowledge, research, or means to protect and control ourselves from abuses of power and the exploitation of our physical being. For centuries politicians and marketing teams have used women’s bodies to establish social norms, professional hierarchies, and health and beauty standards. These status quos, advertisements, research studies, and policies put women at risk of toxic practices and, in some cases, of literally ingesting toxins. For example, before 1906 manufacturers were not required to disclose “poisonous or deleterious” substances in medicine;1 it was not until 1938 that the FDA began regulating ingredients in cosmetics;2 and today there is still no policy requiring research of contents of tampons or menstrual products.3 Her Right to Know presents archival documents and marketing material alongside contemporary artworks that aim to open up a dialogue about women’s bodies and health, and the social injustices that have been placed on women dating back to the 18th century and continue into present day.
Exploring women’s relationships to medicine, cosmetics, health, and control, contemporary artists A.K. Burns, Vitoria Hadba, Coralina Rodriguez Meyer, and Alison Kizu-Blair illuminate and explode many of the constructs and associations of the female body. Burns presents an IUD Anti-Fertility Necklace to “ward off capitalist reproductive politics.”4 Hadba’s sculptures depict menstruation products as simultaneously violent – their shape mimics bullets – and valuable, as they “ameliorate the discomforts of women’s physiology.” Meyer manipulates imagery of fallopian tubes and uterus into scales of justice, highlighting the authority of the judicial system in highly personal decisions regarding a woman’s reproductive rights in Cunt Quilt (Choice). In her work IUD / IED, which is an IUD scaled to fit the Statue of Liberty’s uterus, Meyer further draws attention to the female body as a place for political discourse. Kizu-Blair’s snarky makeup tutorial HAG to SWAG walks the line between the attractive and the repulsive, questioning notions of beauty and performances of femininity. Displayed alongside archival material from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the artworks draw out problems and connections across centuries of women’s health.
1 New York Historical Society, “Female Remedies,” November 2, 2018 - May 27, 2019, https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibi tions/female-remedies.
2 Priyanka Narayan, “The cosmetics industry has avoided strict regulation for over a century. Now rising health concerns has FDA inquiring,” CNBC, August 2, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/01/fda-begins-first-inquiry-of-lightly-regulated-cosmetics-industry.html.
3 Jamie Kohen, “The History of the Regulation of Menstrual Tampons” LEDA at Harvard Law School, April 6, 2001, https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/8852185/Kohen.html?sequence=2. New York representatives have pushed to pass the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act for years, but have been unsuccessful.
4 A.K.Burns, “IUD Anti-Fertility Necklace,” https://akburns.net/ephemera/iud-anti-fertility-necklace/.