San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Abortion Exhibit Brings Artists Together in Creative Protest

MANAGUA – A number of things made last week’s opening of the “100” art exposition in Managua’s Bolonia neighborhood interesting (besides the fact that it started on time).

First off, the event brought together mostly local artists – plus representation from other Central American countries, the United States, China, Cuba, Colombia and Europe – who have used their work to protest Nicaragua’s ban on therapeutic abortions.

Besides some journalistic or documentary- like photographs and altered images, much of the work fell into the category of post-modern art, using gritty symbolism and technology to convey a political message.

In one simple installation, Nicaraguan artist Alejandra Urdapilleta formed two waving rows of blue wire hangers to represent the national flag – a reminder of days when the only option for women seeking abortions involved clandestine operations and rudimentary tools.

Several musicians and one performance artist also participated at the May 8 opening of the exhibition – named “100” to honor the number of women who activists say have died avoidable deaths since Nicaragua banned therapeutic abortions here in November 2006.

One local video collagist, who presented a montage with a real clip of a fatal abortion procedure, called it an important opportunity for artists to make their political dissent heard. Still, she lamented that most attendees (about 350 people showed up, organizers say) were artists themselves or involved in the women’s rights movement.

And yet the actors in this kind of discourse often come from elite circles, and not from the masses who are most affected by the policies under discussion. So at the opening it was mostly artists and activists, people who learned of the event through mediums such as MarcaAcme, an online literary arts magazine here.

Others came after learning of the event on Facebook. A few hours before the event took place, some 189 guests had confirmed attendance on the online networking site.

And let’s not leave out supporters of the abortion ban, who organized a counterprotest to the art exhibition a day earlier. The Facebook page for the protest of the exhibit called for “1,000 Hail Marys for reposition against the crime of abortion.” They had 11 confirmed guests for its event, plus pictures of babies and mothers.

When considering both events, it’s hard to forget how few people actually use the Internet in Nicaragua, despite the growing presence of cyber cafés. But how access to technology relates to political participation is another story.

Back in the halls and open rooms of CISAS, or the Center for Information and Services of Health Accessory, where the “100” exhibition is on display, several bigname artists told me the event was a first in recent memory.

It’s not that Managua lacks a thriving arts scene; you can easily fill your calendar attending exhibit openings, music performances or poetry readings. But what made the event unique was that it put artists of different mediums and different schools under the same roof.

Usually, painters from such-and-such school attend such-and-such events, while the photographers who follow so-and-so attend such-and-such events. Now, the networking that began last week opens a world of possibilities for collaboration, sharing of ideas, and the creation of new projects to forge a Managua identity, one photographer told me.

By working together – whether on a political campaign or a purely artistic endeavor – the local talent can help define what it means to be from Managua, or from Nicaragua.

Directions to CISAS: from Canal 2 de TV, 1 block south, 63 meters below in Bolonia. “100” exhibition on display until May 28.


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