Disrupting the 8th: Aesthetics, Protest, and the Struggle for Abortion Rights in Ireland
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The campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment utilised a variety of aesthetics in an attempt to achieve greater access to abortion care in Ireland. Using Jacque Rancière’s work on dissensus and Judith Butler’s work on the performativity of protest as foundation, this paper will map out some of the creative strategies used by the campaign in order to disrupt the established notion of Ireland as an abortion-free country. These examples are described and contextualized within theories on the space of appearance, politics of aesthetics, agonistics, dispossession, and performativity. Through a combination of discourse, visual, and cultural analysis I will demonstrate the disruptive nature of these aesthetics. These examples are provided along three main themes – embodied resistance, agonism between different sides of the campaign, and emotive images. I will explore how embodied protests such as Strike4Repeal and the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment succeeded in breaking open the space of appearance and revealing the unseen abortion-seeking women. Using Chantal Mouffe’s work on agonistics, I will discuss the clash of different sides of the debate and explore how this clash revealed itself through aesthetics. I will demonstrate how the pro-choice side subverted aesthetics created by the pro-life side for their own campaign. Finally, I will illustrate how the image of a migrant woman, Savita Halappanavar, was used by the campaign to shift the focus of the debate to the bodies threatened by the Eighth Amendment and reveal what was unseen within the established social order – the violence associated with the Eighth Amendment.