The artist blazed into Portugal’s 1998 abortion
referendum with powerful images of women in backstreet clinics. But there is no
blood, no gore – just feeling. The works may have helped swing a later vote
Thu 9 Jun 2022
In 1998, the year of a Portuguese referendum debate on abortion, Paula Rego
poured her fierce, formidable passion into 10 large paintings set in backstreet
abortion clinics. These were a direct gesture of protest at the cruelty of
anti-abortion laws. Focused on individual women positioned on single beds in
improvised operating theatres, the paintings of the Abortion series are so dark
and claustrophobic that you can almost feel the heat and stickiness, and smell
the adrenal sweat.
Rego pulls the focus of the abortion debate back to the woman’s experience.
There is no blood, no gore, no biological nastiness to see here: this is all
about feeling, both physical and psychological. First-hand discussion of
abortion remains taboo even 24 years later – Rego’s works carry us into the
heart of this unseen, unspoken terrain.
When abortion gives birth to art
Local artists have tended to steer clear of this taboo topic, but examples exist
Mar 29, 2020
Lisa Gwen Andrews
For, or against?
That is not the debate. Not here, not now.
This is, however, a mere first attempt at illustrating the woes of women and individuals who have tried, over the years, to visually portray the emotion and experience in relation to the topic of abortion and women’s reproductive rights.
The Abortion Pastels, Paula Rego
May 21, 2018 / womensartblog
In 1998 Portuguese born artist Paula Rego created a series of work entitled Untitled. The Abortion Pastels. Rego created her work in response to a referendum to legalise abortion in Portugal, which was very narrowly defeated. Each canvas depicted the image of a woman undergoing an unsafe abortion.
Rego was born in Portugal in 1935, into what she describes as a repressive, middle-class Portuguese life in which women were highly encouraged to do nothing, while working-class women were forced to do everything. The painter recalls girlhood as a time of learning obedience to men, in addition to secretive and confused messages about puberty, sexual abstention and female propriety. Subsequently, after leaving 1950’s, then fascist Portugal, described by her father as a ‘killer society for women’, to attend London’s Slade School of Fine Art, Rego recollected an era including coerced sex leading to secretive and often tortuous back street abortions. In turn, her Abortion series would be both inspired by her own experiences and that of her fellow female students and what she had witnessed growing up around the small Portuguese villages of her formative years.