Every year, some 47,000 women die from backstreet abortions because of a lack of legal or free access: in her project, Abril shows the after-effects of this experience. This article was first published in the May issue of BJP
Laia Abril is no stranger to themes of distress. Bulimia, coping with the death of a child, the asexual community, virtual sex-performer couples – these are all topics that the Barcelona-based photographer has explored and attempted to demystify with her multi-layered, story-based practice. The subjects she tackles are complex and provocative, but ones she is able to connect with by way of female empathy, “where I can be involved emotionally”, she says.
Her most extensive work to date explores the struggle of eating disorders and is divided into chapters, starting with a short film titled A Bad Day. Next came Thinspiration, a self-published fanzine exploring and critiquing the selfie culture used by the pro-ana community; and finally The Epilogue, which follows an American family in the aftermath of losing their daughter to bulimia.
Separating the work into sections allowed her to approach different aspects through different platforms, not only in the multiplicity of perspectives but also in a constantly evolving visual stimulation. Her new work, A History of Misogyny, also adopts the use of a layered representation. “The ‘history’ part is important,” she told BJP for our May 2017 issue, which focused on the ‘female gaze’.
“Every time I tried to talk about female issues or any kind of situation that I saw was not right, I was confronted with people telling me that it was in the past and it doesn’t apply to the situation we are in now. But just because something is now the law, that doesn’t mean it’s fine. There’s always a risk.” For Abril, looking back is necessary to “highlight the long, continuous erosion of women’s reproductive rights”.
She begins with A History of Misogyny, Chapter One: On Abortion, the first episode of a project that will attempt to “visualise the comparison between the present and the past, so we understand that we have always to be conscious that things are not as certain as we think”.
In the UK it has been legal to terminate a pregnancy of up to 24 weeks since 1967, yet it was only in March this year that MPs voted to decriminalise it entirely, regardless of circumstance or time constrictions. Western society is considered to have liberal views on cases of abortion but in the Republic of Ireland and in Poland it is illegal, with the exception of cases posing a risk to the health of the woman or in the event of a pregnancy arising from rape or incest. In Malta, it remains forbidden altogether.
The project is not about the experience of abortion itself but about the repercussions of women not having legal, safe or free access to the procedure, often forcing them to use dangerous alternatives and causing physical and mental harm. “A woman was using a coat hanger to perform a DIY abortion in Uganda and I hear the same story in Tennessee. [The problem] is everywhere, with pretty much the same consequences.”
Rather than focusing on one story in one location, as has been the tendency, she casts her net wide, “trying to create a conceptual map to connect the repercussions so that we can empathise more with these women”.