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Accepted Paper:

Aliza Shvarts’ “imagination of total bodily autonomy” – Feminist performance as radical resistance in the abortion debate in the US  


Nina Kraus (Technical University Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

For her senior thesis project at Yale University 2008, performance artist Aliza Shvarts engaged in a repeated process which she described as "self-induced miscarriages". With her performance Shvarts radically subverts the patriarchal order by proposing “an imagination of total bodily autonomy”.

Paper long abstract:

When Aliza Shvarts (*1986) proposed a performance project for her senior thesis at Yale University 2008 including her own body in an artistic process which she herself described as "self-induced miscarriages", she was met not only with a national controversy and public backlash, but also with censorship on the part of the university.

Over the course of nine month the artist would artificially inseminate herself in the middle of her cycle and towards the end of her cycle, coinciding with the time of her menstruation, she would take herbal abortifacients to induce an alleged miscarriage. Picked up by right-wing blogs the project was widely dismissed as merely narcistic, morally disturbing, self-harming performance art. The following controversy reaching from the university newspaper to the New York Times exposed the inherent misogyny in the discourse around abortion in the US where women’s bodies are reduced to their reproductive functions.

With an conceptual ambiguity at the core of the performance – she herself as well as the audience could never know what bodily process actually took place – Shvarts questions the boundaries of language when it comes to the highly politicized discourse around women’s reproductive functions. Simultaneously, the performative act extends onto the audience as only the identification of the performance as miscarriage or abortion creates the political context in which it is perceived. Shvarts disrupts and transgresses patriarchal expectations regarding her body using it as an artistic medium of radical resistance and proposing an “imagination of total bodily autonomy”.

Panel Body03b
Disruptive bodies: transgressive encounters in law, art and performance II