Abortion and contraception are by no means modern interventions. For millennia, women have utilised a variety of plants to control and regulate their fertility. To this day, our hedgerows and waysides are still rich with these plants that were once used as emmenagogues and abortifacients, that allowed women to have bodily autonomy.
By unveiling lost narratives, and visualising the rituals of the sexual and reproductive female body, ancient knowledge that was stripped from women, in the face of modern medicine, is revealed. This investigation seeks to awaken us from our latent and patriarchal origins that deemed these skills of caring, healing, and maintaining women’s bodies, a threat to those in power.
Within this interchange between the natural elements, cyclical traces between women, celestial bodies, and the land emerge. Through the use of the powerful flora, alongside the light of the moon to quite literally shed light on our histories. Tying us not only to one another but also to non-human beings we find within nature. Revealing how intrinsically interconnected humans are within the natural processes of the land and the stratosphere beyond.
Until the 1800s, almost every abortion was performed with herbal medicine. Most of these herbal medicines were either made into a 'tea' and drunk, or a piece of cloth would have been soaked in the juices of the plants and inserted directly into the vagina. It wasn't until the 1970s that surgical abortion became more common and was considered safer. Previously, plant-based abortifacients were considered the safest and most effective solution when it came to terminating a pregnancy.
Abortifacients, when given in an appropriate dose, were known to cause the uterus to contract, causing a miscarriage. They were commonly used alongside emmenagogue herbs, also known as 'helpful herbs' such as mugwort, rue, and Queen Anne's Lace which encourage blood circulation to the uterus and bring on menstruation, serving as a contraceptive in the same way that the morning after pill does. It is thought that there are approximately 525 abortifacient plants and many of them have been proven effective within modern medicine. However, the incorrect dosage could be fatal, as most of these phytomedicines are actually just poison in small amounts.
A flower-like teacup that holds the power to kill
I have made a series of porcelain 'tea cups' to portray the domestic side of how these phytomedicines would have been ingested.
I chose to step away from the traditional teacup shape and make these almost flower like containers to mirror the plants from which the medicines come.
The edges of the hand-sculpted porcelain are beautifully thin, allowing light to pass through the translucent petals, however, they are also deadly sharp, like razor blades.
If anyone was to drink out of these, the edges would cut their lips. Perhaps another dark side note to something that may be considered beautiful.
Inside each container is a lunargram of a petri dish containing the bacteria from certain abortifacient or emmenagogue plants.
contextualising poem printed onto cotton to be hung against wall
one cotton and one perspex