Viva Ruiz

Viva Ruiz talks about Thank God for Abortion

Viva Ruiz, A Joyful Noise: Thank God For Abortion Pride Parade Float, 2018. Work in progress. Photo: Barbara Sicuranza.

Artist and activist Viva Ruiz’s ongoing project  Thank God For Abortion, 2015–, celebrates agency in the pro-choice movement. Ruiz’s provocative exclamation “Thank God for abortion,” which is paired with a peaceful dove design, provides a message of joy and gratitude about the spiritual connection of choice to charged conversations around abortion rights. Here, Ruiz parses the relationship between abortion access and queer rights, highlighting the project’s latest and largest sculptural and performative iteration: A Thank God For Abortion parade float that will be featured in the New York City Pride March on June 24, 2018.

“THANK GOD FOR ABORTION” felt like a very natural thing for me to say. Here’s where I’m coming from: God loves me, and blesses the two abortions I had, and celebrates my rights, my autonomy, and my sovereignty. And that also connects with queerness. It is intersectional and goes every which way. If you're fighting to do what you want with your body, it’s about personhood.

Linking this project to Pride is important to me because I’ve started to articulate that abortion rights are queer rights. I want to connect the white, gay muscle—its space and resources—to the abortion struggle. Part of the genesis of the project was when the people around me whom I love did not understand why they should be concerned. I’ve heard a lot of cis, gay men say, “What does abortion have to do with gay people?” We are so close and yet so far away from each other. If you are white, should you not be concerned with how Black people and people of color are targeted? In the same way, if you won the masc card, be there with us who are under attack for being femme, because, to be clear, this is part of an ongoing femicide. And if things are difficult for cis women to access, it’s going to be harder and more traumatic when queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people need abortions. And we do. I want us to be on the same side. We do have a common enemy, who dictates a religious, fundamentalist, heteronormative structure of family that no one at Pride conforms to. We need the people with the most access to care more for the rest of us.

Excerpts from an interview with Viva Ruiz.

This project has been a tool of agitation. Photography was one of my first loves, and when you develop and print photographs, the way you get an image is through a process of agitation, of shaking off from the negative the exposure—that which you don’t need. I feel that metaphor. The agitation of the statement “Thank God for abortion” and the different ways of expressing it shakes something loose in people, and that’s useful because there’s complacency. In the United States, because abortion is federally legal here, people think that if they have rights and access then everybody does. But clinics are disappearing because the political right is inventing restrictions and being so conniving and relentless. I feel like there’s an urgency missing in the mainstream around abortion. My part is to just keep screaming about it. My practice is basically rage and ecstasy: there’s a lot of screaming and a lot of dancing.

I feel more aligned, in attitude and frequency, with the global abortion rights movement and how people are speaking about abortion in Argentina and Ireland, for example, where abortion has been illegal. There’s no cushion, only urgency. It was incredible what recently happened in Ireland, with people flying back from all over the world to vote to repeal the abortion ban. And Argentina, just this month, is halfway to legalizing abortion. It’s encouraging to be in communication with a more global struggle, to see that passion, fervor, and conviction. I’m part of both national and global movements aimed at destigmatizing abortion, which we know leads to decriminalizing abortion. The women from the Shout Your Abortion organization stepped in to help coproduce this float when I was in need of financing—that’s allyship. Our work is to normalize abortion, which is just health care. 

From the beginning of Thank God For Abortion, with the first T-shirt screen print, every step of the way people have wanted to talk to me about their experiences with abortion. I have become like a walking confessional. People who have worn the shirt have shared similar experiences of sparking confrontation and conversation; it’s an activating agent, and it’s spreading like pollen. Yippee! This whole project is very emotional and very personal—we can’t stop until everyone has the same rights that money affords to anyone, no matter what they believe. Our mission ends when everyone has access to legal, safe, and free abortions. We are watching our hard-won civil rights disappear right now under this extremely terrifying fascist, white-supremacist regime. Angela Davis, one of my most cherished teachers, said: “Artists, whether they be musicians or visual artists or literary artists, are often our beacon in times of struggle. Art can educate the imagination.” I don’t know if I’m a beacon, but I do have a pro-abortion parade float rolling through the middle of New York City. This work is a futuristic piece, a vision of a time when the “Thank God for abortion” statement would be banal. We are not there now, but we are intentionally calling that closer with this effort. It’s a multimedia extravaganza, a celebration of our autonomy. And I’m going to make more.