Vintage Purses Are Small-Scale Billboards In The Fight For Reproductive Rights

by Marissa Dubecky

During a time when it’s almost impossible not to feel insanely frustrated about the state of women’s reproductive rights, we can take solace in incredible activist/artists like Michele Pred. Pred’s work stands out at first glance because it’s eye-catching (and super badass), but her pieces are powerful beyond their awesome aesthetic: Their messages are—unfortunately—very relevant to issues women in the U.S. face daily.

And while her presentation is refreshingly accessible, it’s also impressively layered. It’s the kind of art that will not just make anyone look twice, but also take a moment to let it sink in.

The sad truth is that the words on Pred’s vintage bags (“equality,” and “my body, my business,” to name a couple) continue to be ideas we have to fight for. There are constant reminders that women’s reproductive rights are under assault: Just in the past three months one of our senators called pregnant women “hosts,” an abortion bill exploiting women at their most vulnerable passed in the House, and we learned that 231 laws restricting abortion access have been passed since 2011. The battle is far from over, but the good news is we have amazing women like Michele Pred on our side.

What inspired you to create art with this message?

It’s a horrendous time for women’s reproductive rights. The Senate is sneaking in anti-abortion bills, there have already been countless attempts to cut health care funding for women across the country this year, negative attitudes toward birth control stubbornly persist… I did this work 25 years ago, and I never thought it would still be an issue today. I honestly thought it would be resolved by now, but the sad truth is that not much has changed. A couple of years ago I realized I needed to continue my quest to spread the message and provoke conversation. The title of this series is “Promote the General Welfare.” This is the first line of the Constitution, and it’s important to me to point out the fact that by limiting reproductive rights, we are doing just the opposite. It’s unfortunate that things continue to be challenging for women in this way. 

Who is your audience?

I want everyone to see my art, from men and women in the public to conservative politicians. But certain pieces aim to join together young women in particular, like my “Reflections” series. The ideas I’m addressing have been around a long time, but I want to bring them to a more current place. I made the mirror into a women’s symbol that is aimed at a younger audience—the selfie generation. It’s the idea of looking at yourself as a feminist, and thinking about how you identify with that term. It’s powerful to look in and see your face associated with that identity, and I find it really rewarding to see young people—and people of all ages—thinking about what that word means and how they relate to it.

How do you choose your materials?

I create art with purses, pins, and t-shirts so that people can use them to stand up and show what they believe in. They’re small-scale political billboards. The vintage purses reflect the fact that we are stuck in a past era, and it’s an era that we need to escape. We need more men and women standing up and saying “we don’t agree with this,” and that’s why I think it’s important to put my art on materials that people can showcase. The electroluminescent wire on the purses can be set to blinking or constant on, and the birth control pills are all expired and have all been donated to me by clinics and individuals. I donate five percent of the proceeds of my “Pro-Choice” purses to NARAL Pro-Choice New York as a thank you for the work they do, which has been a really rewarding way for me to support the movement and feel more involved in it. And not everyone can afford a purse, so it’s important to me to make pins and t-shirts that are more accessible.

Check out more of Michele’s work at the following locations:

artMRKT San Francisco – April 30 – May 3, 2015

Art Miami New York – May 14-17, 2015

Images c/o Michele Pred

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