Above: Guest curator Katrina Majkut with some of her censored artwork from the Unconditional Care exhibition, Lewston, Idaho.
An art exhibition exploring people's health needs and the stories of those effected by their access (or lack there of) to health care was heavily censored last month by the administration of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, based on its interpretation of the "No Public Funds for Abortion Act" passed by the Idaho legislature in 2021.
Unconditional Care: Listening to people's health needs is an exhibition that opened March 3 at the Center for Arts & History on the campus of Lewis-Clark State College. Guest curated by Katrina Majkut, Unconditional Care features the work of ten artists (including Ms. Majkut) exploring "today’s most pressing health issues and shares the stories and concerns of those most directly impacted by them. From chronic illnesses, disability, pregnancy, gun deaths to sexual assault, artists share powerful personal experiences around health and bodily autonomy." According to an article in the New York Times, the school administration "became aware of concerns" Feb. 26 about the content of the exhibition.
It is unclear how knowledge of the work in the exhibit was known prior to its public opening, or who brought these "concerns" to the attention of the college administration. The college's legal department determined that portions of Unconditional Care violated the "No Public Funds for Abortion Act" which states "No person, agency, organization, or any other party that receives funds authorized by the state, a county, a city, a public health district, a public school district, or any local political subdivision or agency thereof may use those funds to perform or promote abortion, provide counseling in favor of abortion, make referral for abortion."
Ms. Majkut is quoted in the Times saying "The Goal of the artwork, and the exhibit at large is to discuss difficult topics with mutual respect and empathy." Previous bans on public funds for abortion were limited to health care facilities and providers. To extend such a ban to the broader public raises serious questions about freedom of speech. For the college administration to interpret the mere mention of abortion in any way as equivalent to promoting abortion or providing counseling in favor of abortion forbodes ill for the future of free expression in the state of Idaho.
The work of three artists were targeted by the Clark-Lewis State College administration and removed from Unconditional Care before the opening of the exhibit: Michelle Hartney, Lydia Nobles and Katrina Majkut. Below is a view of their censored work. We owe a great deal of gratitude to these artists for the courageous stand they are taking for all of us.
Ms. Nobles contributed three films and one audio narrative to Unconditional Care that were subsequently removed by the college administration. These narratives were part of her series As I Sit Waiting in which Ms. Nobles collected experiences of abortion access "or lack thereof." Each narrative is accompanied by a sculpture which were not included in Unconditional Care; the above photog is the sculpture (acrylic, fabric, high chair, resin, 20.75” x 25” x 34.25”, 2021) that accompanies Blair. Ms. Nobles describes Blair as "About to get married and pregnant, Blair and her soon to be husband were very excited and happy. They were preparing for the baby, and were even more thrilled when they found out it was twins. After more testing, Blair found out one of the fetuses was not developing. She chose to have a multifetal reduction." Says Blair in the narrative,"We were devastated. We were very excited to have two babies. Even recently, someone had sent us a double bassinet...The rest of the pregnancy there was a little dot where the needle was and as I got more pregnant, the dot expanded...any time I looked in the mirror, I was looking at my belly and there was always that reminder: there used to be two."
You can experience Blair and Ms. Nobles' other three censored narratives at these links:
The above letter was addressed to Margaret Sanger, who is credited with originating the term "birth control." Michelle Hartney used it as part of her art series Unplanned Parenthood: Letters to an Army of Millions. Writes Ms. Hartney, "Over 250,000 people wrote letters to Sanger in the 1920s begging for information about birth control. Many stated they would rather die than go through another pregnancy or were struggling with serious medical conditions, were being beaten by their husbands, or forced to have sex with them, or their husbands were beating their children. Some endured 13,14+ pregnancies, countless miscarriages and stillbirths or were living in extreme poverty. These desperate please are an important part of our history and the state of Idaho, 100 years later, is trying to silence them."
"The series my piece comes from is not about abortion. It’s about the history of birth control and the role racism played in the fight for reproductive justice in the United States. The goal of the project is to bring these forgotten stories of first hand accounts of what it was like to be a person with a uterus in the US when the Comstock Laws [passed by Congress in 1873] made distributing information about pregnancy prevention illegal. This project is about having conversations about Margaret Sanger’s support of white supremacy, her support of eugenics, and Buck vs Bell, the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize sterilization of those the government deemed unfit to have kids."
The piece Katrina Majkut had deleted from Unconditional Care was embroidered bottles of mifespristone and misoprostol, medications used to end pregnancy. Here is her soapbox unpublished statement about the affair:
""In terms of freedom and cultural health, artists are like the canary in a coalmine. When the expression of one artist or group of artists is threatened, it means that all artists, regardless of medium or content, are at risk. That's why it's incredibly important that we support each other and protect our freedom of expression from those who would abuse their power to silence us. And why we must keep making art. Artists are always at the frontline of revolutions. Whether we are in that revolution to protect culture or form a new frontier, artists must be fearless leaders who remind people and society that they are not bound to the limitations of an unimaginative and biased powerful minority."