Through the calming, yet austere art of ikebana, Ann Shelton presents us with lustrous arrangements that tells of a startling history. Did you know that Queen Anne’s Lace has been used historically as a contraceptive after sex? Ancient writings by Hyppocrates records this wisdom. Or were you aware that sixteenth century historian, Bartolomé Las Casas, recorded that in the Bahamas at the time of Columbus’ arrival to North America, the Arawak Indians used herbs to force stillbirths?
In Shelton’s series jane says, recalls the ancient wisdom of women treating themselves for an abortion or increased fertility, a time when crucial knowledge of herbal medicinals was passed from woman to woman.
It is fitting to have this body of work on exhibit now, considering the sharp move by many current governments to restrict access and criminalize abortions. In Shelton’s own country, New Zealand, abortion is still criminalized. During this severe time of rolling back abortion rights, women are re-visiting these ancient remedies. Websites such as Sister Zeus are essential for bringing this information to women.
Shelton didn’t have an easy time acquiring the plants to photograph for jane says, which in itself was a reminder that obtaining abortions is no easy task. Jane says is on view at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki until 17 April.
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