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BIFB exhibition wins RPS medal

One of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) standout exhibitions, On Abortion, by Spanish photographer Laia Abril has won the prestigious Royal Photographic Society Hood Medal award.

A set of household abortion tools, from the Museum of Contraception and Abortion in Vienna, from Abril’s exhibition.

Inside Imaging‘s critical review of BIFB praised Abril’s exhibition, so it’s quite reassuring to find our opinion validated by the likes of the Royal Photographic Society.

On Abortion is the first part of a long-term project called A History of Misogyny.

‘Today, safe and efficient means of abortion exist, yet 47000 women die due to botched abortions, every year. Millions of unwilling women across countries and religions are blocked from abortion technologies by law and trustopt social coercion, and forced to carry pregnancies to term,’ the project statement says. ‘Many are minors and rape victims, their pregnancy is not viable or their health is at risk. Laia Abril’s project “On abortion” documents and conceptualizes these dangers and damages caused by women’s lack of legal, safe and free access to abortion. As she weaves her net of questions around ethics and morality, Abril also creates a series of meditative visual and textual manifestations of the social triggers, stigmas, and taboos around abortion that have remained invisible until now.

The Hood Medal is awarded to an art or science photography project that is produced to ‘promote or raise awareness of an aspect of public benefit or service’. The medal was founded in 1933 by a British gentleman named Harold Hood.

‘I’m not an activist,’ Abril told the British Journal of Photography (BJP) in 2017. ‘I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind or fix the situation because I don’t have the power to do that. But maybe I do have the power to shed some light on the stories that we don’t think about or that don’t get the same audience that I’m reaching.’

Here’s what we wrote about On Abortion:
Inside Imaging‘s party of three were left speechless by A History Of Misogyny, Chapter One: On Abortion… showing at the new National Centre of Photography, housed in Ballarat’s former Union Bank building.

It’s the most confronting exhibition, with Abril’s captions telling horrific accounts of women from around the world who sought abortion, despite the procedure being illegal. The storytelling is held together by captions that are aided by portraits, cold images of objects used for medieval ‘home methods’, newspaper clippings, and video.

The exhibition is a long-term research project that incorporates photography. With the topic of abortion still divisive  in Australia and abroad, it’s breathtaking to consider the lengths women are forced to go to in some parts of the world, and in earlier times, to terminate a pregnancy.

Marta, 29, Poland: ‘On January 2, 2015, I traveled to Slovakia to have an abortion. [In Poland, abortion is illegal except in cases of sexual assault, serious fetal deformation, or threat to the mother’s life.] I was too scared to take DIY abortion pills alone. What if something went wrong? So I decided to get a surgical abortion in a clinic abroad. I felt upset about borrowing money for the procedure, and lonely and frustrated because I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening. The hardest part was facing my boyfriend, who opposes abortion. All the same, I felt stronger and more mature afterwards.’ Photo: Laia Abril
Abril’s exhibition was first presented in 2016 at France’s Les Rencontres d’Arles, and On Abortion is also available in book and won the 2018 Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation Photobook of the Year Award.

‘I’m trying to visualise a history of misogyny so we don’t forget what’s in the past and don’t get too comfortable in the present; so we take a look at things that sometimes we don’t want to – in a visual way that doesn’t make you just turn the page but makes you engage somehow and think a little bit,’ Abril said.

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