The reality of what it is like for a woman who has made the decision to travel abroad to access abortion services can be drowned out amidst the political debates, conflicting posters and conversations online. Regardless of what side of the debate you stand on, it is a fact that there are many steps to take for a medical procedure. Fasting beforehand, recovering physically afterwards — and for women who want to access a safe and legal abortion — airport security, booking accommodation, and accepting that you cannot immediately get to the comfort and privacy of your own home afterwards. Grace Dyas and Emma Fraser created an art installation, Not At Home, based on anonymous testimonies collected from women online about their personal experience of travelling abroad for an abortion.
Grace explains that they wanted to create a piece that presented people with what these women have to go through, so that they could make an informed decision ahead of the referendum. “Women’s authentic experiences are often diluted in public discourse by a polemic right and wrong response. We wanted to create something that was more complex,” Grace says. “I hope that people become equipped to make their own decision about what way they want to vote based on real human experiences that haven’t been corrupted by politics, journalism or activism. Not At Home is about saying this is what is happening. It’s the raw human experiences of these women, and I hope people will make their decision based on their humanity.” Not At Home puts the figure of women who have travelled abroad since 1980 at 170,216. One impactful account they collected came from a woman who had to go through the procedure without anaesthetic, as she had had a cup of tea at the airport and couldn’t come back another day. “That makes the consequences of having to travel really clear. We all have different views on the ethics of abortion, but Not At Home is about the reality that thousands of women are choosing to have a major medical operation that they have to travel abroad and back for. That has consequences for us as a society that we need to be aware of.” In 2017 Grace and Emma arranged a private viewing of Not At Home for women who had travelled, supervised by a therapist and hosted by Róisín Ingle. “It was beautiful to connect people who had this experience, who had never been able to meet. Emma went to Liverpool in 2013 and she found when she came home there was no one to talk to about her experience, and so we are trying to create peer-led support around it.”
As an activist, Grace would love to encourage people to vote to repeal, but through her artistic career she has learned that she is happier with her work when it leaves room for people to make up their own minds. “Obviously I want to say ‘everyone should vote yes’. I would like the unnecessary pain of women having to leave the country to stop. But at the same time I have to respect other people’s views around it. I find it disturbing that no voters can be polemic, but I think on the left, we have to allow dissent, that’s who we say we are,” she says. “It’s been a constant negotiation throughout my career, to get the perfect balance between art and activism. The more I have learned about social justice and inequality the more I started to preach to the choir a bit. But I think creating something that holds all the perspectives leads to much more interesting work and it makes you grow as a person.”
Not At Home will tour Ireland in May. It combines video, audio and live performance; the actors are behind a window and the audio is projected out onto the street. It won best production at the 2017 Dublin Fringe Festival, but the logistics of finding suitable spaces around the country has made planning the tour difficult. “Money and space has been really tricky. Publicly-funded organisations can’t support it because they are concerned about being seen to take a side in the referendum. It’s challenging as an artist for a piece of art being subjected to this kind of rigour, but it is very understandable,” Grace says. “Using a commercial space drives the cost up. We have raised €15,000 but the whole thing will cost €40,000. So if anyone would like to support us please get in touch.”
On 1 May it was announced that Not At Home would travel to Limerick, Cork, Galway, Clare, Westmeath, Leitrim, Donegal, Kildare, Waterford, Wicklow, Kerry, Mayo, Laois and Dublin from 5 May to 25 May. Visit the Not At Home Facebook page for details of performances as they are announced.
This is an edited excerpt of an interview that appeared in the May issue of Irish Country Magazine, which is in shops until 21 May. Words by Róisín Healy and photography by Rita Slattery.
Inform | Inspire | Indulge