In our first public action the IMELDA’s unexpectedly intervened in a conference organized by Catholic clerics that deemed themselves to be ‘radical and socially engaged.’ We brazenly stormed into the conference with wheelie suitcases in tow to symbolize those forced to travel for abortion. Our use of suitcases was inspired by Choice Ireland, the Irish pro-choice activist group. The motif of abortion seeker with suitcase was adopted by the Irish artist, Siobhan Clancy, and several others. On taking up position at the front of the conference, disrupting the speaker who was in full flow, we delivered a message to conference attendees and issued a call for abortion services to be made accessible across the island of Ireland.
The actions featured here detail our creative, sometimes cheeky, subversions of the attempts to contain female sexuality by the Catholic Church and the southern Irish state. It includes our unexpected performative interventions at Irish cultural events, including a conference organized by Catholic Clerics, The Irish State Visit to England, The Rose of Tralee Festival and an event organised by the national broadcaster RTE ahead of the centenary of the 1916 Rising. It also details our performance ‘Silenced Screams’ at the demonstration we co-organised to protest the treatment of Ms Y and our marking the publication of the Amnesty report, ‘She is Not a Criminal’.
IMELDA tackles church and state
During the occasion of the historic State Visit of the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins to England the IMELDA’s highlighted the relations between the two states that are often overlooked. On the 8th of April we staged an intervention outside the Irish Embassy during the President’s visit, accompanied by Prince Charles. Two days later we positioned ourselves outside the Royal Albert Hall as attendees waited to enter the building to experience a celebration of Irish music and culture as part of the state visit. In both interventions we drew on Irish music, re-inventing the popular ballad ‘Sail Away’ by the Irish musician Enya to speak of the dozen women from the island of Ireland forced to travel abroad everyday to access abortion.
In 2014, a suicidal and clearly vulnerable asylum seeker, pregnant as a result of rape, presented to the Irish authorities requesting an abortion. Despite highlighting that she was suicidal as a result of the pregnancy and later going on thirst and hunger strike, she was persistently denied access to an abortion and was cajoled into agreeing to a caesarian section when her pregnancy reached the cusp of viability. In Silenced Screams the IMELDA’s highlighted their anger at the horrific treatment of Ms Y. We used rape alarms and a ‘secular rosary’ format to reference the recent 'decades' of cruel and dehumanizing treatment of women by the Irish state and the Catholic Church. In speaking of the decades of abuse and maltreatment experienced by Irish women at the hands of the Catholic Church and Irish State as a succession of silenced screams, we undermined the anti-choice video propaganda that purports to show the silenced scream of the fetus.
In partnership with local pro-choice activists, IMELDA coordinated an action in which women chained themselves to pillars outside the General Post Office (G.P.O.) in Dublin dressed as suffragettes. The action took place during RTE's 'Road to the Rising' event, which occurred ahead of the centenary of the 1916 Rising, the revolt of British rule that began with revolutionaries taking over the G.P.O. and throwing a copy of The Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the building. On chaining their bodies to the pillars of this nationally significant building, the IMELDA’s read out the ‘Pro-Choice Proclamation’ to passing crowds and urgently proclaimed the right of all women in Ireland to access safe, legal and local abortion. 99 years after the proclamation of Irish freedom was read from the steps of the G.P.O., the activists highlighted that women in Ireland still don't have freedom in terms of basic bodily autonomy.
To mark the publication of the launch of Amnesty International's Report, 'She is not a Criminal,' which focuses on the Republic of Ireland's Abortion Laws, Speaking of IMELDA and the London Irish Feminist Network joined speakers outside the Irish Embassy London. Speakers included: Naomi McAuliffe of Amnesty International, Leni Morris of Abortion Support Network and Dr Ruth Fletcher of Lawyers for Choice. Throughout the event IMELDA’s decorated the Embassy with the cover of the report and supplied the Embassy with a copy.
IMELDA parodied the format of the annual Rose of Tralee pageant on the streets of Tralee, in an action that ran synchronically to the main festival. The festival was started in 1959 to bring Irish immigrants back to Ireland and to support tourism in the rural area of Tralee. In the festival, female contestants are judged on their virtue and personality. In our version the winners were those who lived in countries with the best reproductive healthcare services. Ms Northern Ireland and Ms Republic of Ireland were the tragic losers, deprived of the reproductive choices available to their sisters living abroad. Our ‘rogue roses’ not only parodied the construct of the hyper-feminine ‘lovely girl’, but also transcended accepted norms by speaking out about the lack of reproductive rights afforded to women across the island of Ireland.