Back in May, 2012, The Daily Show’s John Stewart came under fire for a sketch where he positioned a manger between a woman’s legs. According to CNN’s coverage of the controversy, Stewart had suggested that women use these “vagina mangers…to protect their reproductive organs from unwanted medical intrusions.”
Fast forward to today, and Ireland is now dealing with a similar controversy. Theirs concerns a mural painted on the wall of Dublin’s Project Arts Center.
Andrea Horan created The HunReal Issues –a website that works to “…empower and engage non-politically motivated people” over a month ago. Together, Horan and her staff looked at how they could best achieve that objective. As part of their efforts, they enlisted the help of models and TV presenters. They also asked popular artist, Maser, if he would contribute some artwork.
“If you find me a wall, I’ll paint it,” Horan remembers him replying.
“It was fully to get people to engage with the issue," Horan replies when asked to explain the purpose of the mural, “From asking people to give us content for our website, we stumbled into so many people who were fully supportive of repealing the 8th.”
Horan draws an interesting distinction. Like many other groups in Ireland, her group is also hoping to get a referendum called to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution which makes it illegal for a woman to get an abortion. But Horan says that they just want to “open up conversation,” and “add more voices to the conversation.” As for directly influencing policy, Horan says that they want to “Leave the policy maker and the political stuff to the people who are better at it.”
At first, a wall on Dublin’s Project Arts Center seemed like it would provide a good canvas.
After all, as Horan notes, the Project Arts Center had previously been home to a “Yes Equality” mural (for Ireland’s marriage referendum), as well as a mural which addressed mental health issues.
According to Horan, both of those murals had been up for 6 months or more, and they were unaware that they would need planning permissions for the new mural.
After the mural went up, they received both complaints and messages of support. They were prepared to “live through the storm” though, as Horan puts it.
“With the mural, even if you don’t agree with it, it was just about being able to get people to engage with the issue,” she continues.
Unfortunately, after seven complaints were sent to the Dublin City Council, officials came, did a site visit, said that the mural was in violation of planning laws, and needed to be removed.
“There’s never been an enforcement in that place before,” says Horan, explaining her surprise.
Rebecca O’Donovan, an Irish activist and one-time Queens Free Press contributor, thinks that even though the mural is gone, it achieved its purpose by starting more discussions on abortion in Ireland.
“It brought so many people together,” she says, “The mural was projected onto a massive building in Cork a few days after the mural was taken down in Dublin.”
O’Donovan believes that the decision to remove the mural was driven, in part, by a desire to censor the pro-choice movement.
“It [the decision to remove the mural] made anti-choicers come across as cowards!” she says, “I wish they’d commissioned their own mural to be done, instead of destroying one they don’t agree with!”
Irish comedian, Gráinne Maguire, is known for her own protest against the Eighth Amendment. Last year, she began live-tweeting her periods to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to protest the Irish state’s stance on abortion.
For Maguire, the decision to remove the mural is part of a much larger conversation that has been taking place regarding fear and shame in Ireland. She explains her rationale in a brief Twitter exchange:
Removing the mural is another example of the anti-choice side’s fear of debate. They feed off silence, fear and shame. They don't want it to be discussed in an open, level-headed manner because then their argument would crumble. They want to control the terms of debate, it's always "mother" and "baby," not "women" and "foetus.” It's always tragedy and shame, not choice and freedom. Abortions rights in Ireland has transformed into a positive, open, celebration of women and they are terrified of this. We will not be ashamed, we will not be silent, we are not going away. Irish women have been white washed out of our history for long enough. It's going to take more than blue paint to silence us now.
Maguire could not have been more right. The mural might have been removed from the wall, but it lives on in other forms—in people’s hearts, minds and conversations.
— Dr Panti Bliss (@PantiBliss) July 25, 2016
The X-ile Project is working to create an online photo gallery of women from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who have been forced to go abroad in order to avail themselves of abortion services.
“We were delighted to see The HunReal issues take a stand for Repeal in conjunction with Project Arts Center and Maser,” they write in a statement prepared for Queens Free Press, “It was a bold move, and one that garnered a lot of positive support.” As proof of this support, they note that every day on the streets, they see people wearing pro-choice badges or REPEAL jumpers.
Most importantly, The X-ile project stresses the fact that this has not crushed people’s spirits or resolve.
“There are so many creative and determined people working together for women’s rights in this country that simply removing a mural will not dampen the spirits and strength of our movement,” they write, “What we need now is change in our laws to accompany the visibility and public support for Repeal the 8th.”
And the people are all too happy to keep the cause in the spotlight. For example, some artists have re-created the mural in other spaces.
On Twitter, a story about a Wicklow artist who re-created the mural using graffiti has been a hot topic of conversation.
— RepealEight (@repealeight) July 31, 2016
On July 26th, people gathered where the mural once was to protest its removal. Many wore blue face paint—the same color that was used to cover up the mural. According to an article in The Independent, “People painted themselves with blue to show that ‘painting something blue won’t make it go away’.”
Dublin-based bakery, Aungier Danger created an edible form of protest--a donut which was inspired by the mural.
In a brief Twitter exchange, a representative from the bakery explained their unique protest. “The removal of the mural at the Project Arts the other day compelled us to produce them and get involved,” they write, “You cannot censor art in a digital age. Also, the mural was a message of hope and progress for women’s rights, but once again, darker forces have conspired to try to keep us in the dark ages.”
— Aungier Danger (@AungierDanger) July 27, 2016
There was certainly a lot of demand for the donuts!
— Aungier Danger (@AungierDanger) July 27, 2016
Proceeds from the sale of the donuts are going to Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign—an Irish advocacy group that works “To educate the public and policy makers about the need for access to free, safe and legal abortion options in Ireland for all who need it, regardless of citizenship or financial capacity, in line with provision of other basic healthcare options.”
— Abortion Rights IE (@freesafelegal) July 29, 2016
On July 30th, Aungier Danger turned up outside Project Arts Center, armed with a batch of their “Repeal the 8th” donuts, and gave a free donut to anyone who showed up, wearing blue face paint.
— Aungier Danger (@AungierDanger) July 30, 2016
For Aungier Danger, it’s about more than just the mural though. It’s about choice, bodily autonomy, and ultimately repealing the Eighth Amendment. In the same exchange mentioned earlier, their representative writes, “I’d like to see a referendum held to help give the people a voice. It’s 2016!”
Debbie Hickey, an Irish photographer and designer, recreated the moment the mural was painted over, using Legos.
— Debbie Hickey (@DebStudioTen) July 26, 2016
“I created the mural out of Lego as repealing the 8th amendment is a very important issue and I wanted to highlight the censorship of the artwork,” she says, “Everyone seems to relate to Lego so I think it's a good medium to try to reach people through.”
Most recently, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties recreated the mural in two of their windows.
— ICCL (@ICCLtweet) August 3, 2016
“Every time I see someone else doing something, I get goosebumps,” says Andrea Horan.
She continues, nothing that, “There’s so much that you kind of lose hope a lot of the time, but the good things that are happening…People are great. I can’t stop saying it!”
Like the mural, people’s desire to see the Eighth Amendment repealed isn’t going away anytime soon.
“Being able to be vocal about the mural is the first step towards getting people to be vocal about us exporting women who need abortions,” explains Horan.
When asked what she thought it would take for the government to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Horan says that politicians would need to “feel consensus.”
“Every time we do something that shows that, it’s one step towards it,” she says.