Feminist Movers Makers & Shakers: Megan Smith and the Repeal Hyde Art Project

How has feminism impacted your life personally?

It’s harder for me to think about how feminism hasn’t impacted by life! Feminism at its core, to me, is about pulling back the curtain to understand how our society is constructed and trying to actively restore a balance of power. Learning and doing that has become essential to my identity and everyday practice.

How would you describe your work & what do you hope to accomplish?

In 2011 I founded the Repeal Hyde Art Project to use art as a tool to create dialogue and awareness about abortion access and interconnected issues. It stemmed from a desire to want to talk more about the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits people from being able to use Medicaid to pay for abortions) and abortion in a way that honored people’s experiences and that invited participation and conversation. I started doing that by creating in-person, participatory installations and over time the Project shifted to explore similar themes using digital art and social media.

Can you talk about the evolution of the Repeal Hyde Art Project?

My work has evolved a lot, and I think it is because art isn’t stationary – it’s exploratory. As artists we are always trying to get closer to our vision and each time we create  it brings us one step closer. That is also an advantage of being an artist as opposed to another professional addressing social issues who is tied down to certain prescribed ways of thinking about messaging and outcomes. Artists have the freedom to test out new ideas and see what sticks. And I think that can be really valuable.

When I first started the Project I was focused on figuring out how to use art in an interactive, in-person process to invite people into a conversation about abortion access. And if it was successful, I wanted to create something that I didn’t own but that was a free tool that people could use to do the same thing. And I think I have done that to some extent. Once I felt like that was available to the public I wasn’t sure what to do next – and I just started playing around with digital art.

Personally I have evolved (and am continuing to evolve) in multiple directions, and the Project has by extension. The first is aesthetically and artistically. Before starting this Project I didn’t identify as an artist. It’s only a label that I adopted after working on this for a few years. I think a piece of that is that I have never studied art and I am technically limited, so in the time that the Project has grown I have also grown in my technical skill level, and the ways in which I am able to express myself and my ideas has shifted as a result.

Something else that has become more important to me over time is expanding my messaging to become more inclusive and actively anti-oppressive – a piece of that is connecting abortion access more explicitly to other movements for justice. Another piece is more personal and reflective. I want people to hear and see and feel what liberation is like to remind ourselves that we can get there. I think that is what I am seeking with each piece that I create.

Why do you choose your art as your main method of engaging with feminism?

I have always been a creative person and enjoy thinking about new ways of engaging with ideas or problems. So to me it seemed natural to ask: “Can art be used to bring more people into an open conversation about abortion access?”, “How can I use art to connect to people around themes of justice,” and, “How can I engage White feminists engaged in abortion access to talk more about intersectional oppressions?”

I also don’t know that I would say that is is my “main” method of engaging with feminism. It’s one of the tools that I use, and probably my favorite tool, but the work needs to happen outside of and in conjunction with artistic practice. I am trying to push myself to be bolder and to take more risks in all areas of my life – in “activist” spaces, artistic spaces, and non-activist spaces – to fight for justice.

Is collaboration something you incorporate into your practice? Why or why not?

I am trying to be more intentionally collaborative, because I think making art about oppression and liberation as White person requires more input and relational feedback to be effective and responsible. So some of that work I do in conjunction with art-making, and some outside of that.

I also work frequently with organizations, individuals, and occasionally (although I am hoping to do this more!) with other artists. I think the practice of visualizing and moving towards an idea with others and figuring out that puzzle is essential to keep me enjoying what I do. It’s rewarding for me to engage in that process with others.

What is your philosophy for doing activism?

Be curious, assertive, and intentional. Love yourself like you love others.

Who is your favorite feminist mover, maker and/or shaker?

My favorite contemporary queer and/or feminist artists at the moment are SO MANY. I’m obsessed with Gabriel Garcia Roman’s Queer Icons project and Micah Bazant’s Trans Life and Liberation art series.  Other artists that I have been turning to recently for revolutionary feels include Raychelle Duazo, Molly Costello, Luba Dalu, and Camila Rosa.

How do you make the Hyde Art Project more inclusive?

Inclusivity is a process and not something that will ever have an end. Especially because art-making can be such a solitary process, inclusivity for me looks like being intentional about seeking opportunities for collaboration and utilizing the power and audience I have to support and amplify the work that others are doing. I have a lot of work to do, personally and professionally, to make myself and this Project more responsible. I am committed to doing so and am taking it one step at a time but am always open and curious about what I can be doing better.

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Megan J. Smith is an artist-activist and social worker who is passionate about using art to catalyze social change. Megan has no formal artistic training and credits their grandmother Sylvia who taught them how to paint at a young age. In 2011 they founded the Repeal Hyde Art Project (www.repealhydeartproject.org) to create dialogue about abortion access and interconnected issues. Since then, they have created over 200 shareable graphics, facilitated 40 university-based Repeal Hyde Art Project installations, and created artwork for numerous organizations. Their work is currently on display in the traveling exhibition from art from the Women’s March in partnership with the Amplifier Foundation and the Women’s March on Washington, most recently at the Center for Contemporary Art in Seattle, WA. Megan is also the recipient of the 2015 Arts and Healing Network Award for Arts and Social Change. They currently reside in Boston with their partner Clare and their 13 year-old cat Boxer.


 

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