On the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade – and in the year after its overturning – this exhibition examines the long history of reproductive injustice in the United States through two projects by Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter.
Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter, Still from Ain’t I a Woman, 2018/23. Single-channel video (colour, sound): 15 min., 1 sec. © Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter
The artist and advocate centers storytelling and healing in work that explores the institutional, legal, and cultural processes that have brutally stripped Black women and girls of their bodily autonomy.
In her film Ain’t I a Woman, Baxter links her carceral experience of giving birth in shackles to an expanded fight for reproductive rights – one that centers the vulnerabilities of and violence against Black women, who have historically been denied the right to decide whether, when, and how to safely have children. The musical documentary is paired with Consecration to Mary, a multipart photographic work that connects the histories of abuse faced by Black children to “adultification bias,” a social reality in which Black youths are systemically treated as adults. In the piece, Baxter confronts and combats sexually exploitative nude photographs of a young Black girl taken by famed white American artist Thomas Eakins in 1882. Baxter inserts herself into two of Eakins’s photographs, to protect the violated, and presents other images as closed daguerreotype cases, obscuring them from public view. A third open photograph of Baxter as a child links the artist herself to these histories of societal abuse.
Together, these works expose how the exploitation of Black girls leads to political disenfranchisement and social precarity, resulting in the mass incarceration of Black women. By foregrounding deeply vulnerable members of U.S. society, the exhibition expands the discourse on abortion access into a more nuanced conversation about reproductive justice, encompassing human rights, empathy, and liberation.
‘Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter: Ain’t I a Woman’ is organised by Catherine Morris, Sackler Senior Curator, with Jaileen Pierre-Louis, former CITI Intern, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum. Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Museum Educational Trust. The exhibition will be on view from the 20th of January until the 13th of August, 2023. For more information, please visit the Brooklyn Museum.