“Artists and culture can change society. We will do everything to support them,” says Jasmine Wahi, curator and cofounder of Project for Empty Space (PES), the Newark-based arts nonprofit. Along with PES codirector Rebecca Pauline Jampol, Wahi is curating an ambitious, three-part exhibition to raise awareness about the importance of bodily autonomy. Titled “BODY FREEDOM FOR EVERY(BODY),” the initiative is the latest from PES that reflects the team’s ongoing support of socially oriented artists — support that encompasses programs, exhibitions, residencies, and subsidized studios.
Featuring artists such as Marilyn Minter and Laurie Simmons, who are also both cocreators of the project, “BODY FREEDOM FOR EVERY(BODY)” will include a mobile, cross-country exhibition; activations and programming in New York City; and a digital database. With events beginning in May, the project will unfold over the course of the year leading up to election day in November. The artists PES works with center their practices on the interconnected factors that inform body freedom. Across all facets of the project, the artists represent diverse and intergenerational voices.
“My generation isn’t doing anything, we need the young people,” says artist Marilyn Minter. “We need everybody to get involved. It only takes two people to organize; it will explode sooner or later.”
“BODY FREEDOM FOR EVERY(BODY)” is an expansion of “ABORTION IS NORMAL,” a series of exhibitions that PES began organizing in 2019 as a response to the restriction of reproductive freedom. This earlier project was an urgent call-to-action that aimed to fundraise and advocate for safe, accessible, and legal abortion. The shift to “BODY FREEDOM FOR EVERY(BODY)” reflects an understanding of the challenges facing bodily autonomy and health care more broadly.
“Since 2020, there has been an acceleration of restrictions not just on reproductive health care, but also on LGBTQIA, trans, and nonbinary folks. It’s a larger issue with many interconnected factors,” Wahi says.
For the mobile exhibition space, the team is transforming a 27-foot truck that they will drive across the country for six weeks beginning in July, stopping for as short as two days depending on how many places they can travel. The target locations include areas that will have the most impact from a voter initiative standpoint, such as purple and swing states. PES is working with local partners, including arts institutions, grassroots health care advocacy groups, and legal and human rights organizations.As they build the itinerary, PES plans to identify areas that need community and add as many stops as possible to reach a broad audience.
“In election year, one of the biggest goals is getting education and support to as many people as we can. The truck will allow us to plant ourselves in strategic locations across the country where we can share information about body freedoms in various forms. Our priority will be to create safe space, conversation, and community in the places that need it the most,” says Jampol.
The artworks in the truck will directly respond to the theme of body freedom and the team will organize programs to educate and engage the communities they visit through conversation and celebration. The truck will provide a safe space for visitors to learn, heal, and share their stories. “With all of these initiatives, we hope to extend a support system and healing space to people who might feel alone or misunderstood, as well as those who aren’t sure how they feel about abortion and reproductive care, or how it even relates to them,” says Jampol. “Support can build community and possibly even change someone’s opinion on the issues.”
Minter echoes these sentiments. “Community is everything,” she says. “If one person can see you and hear you, it changes everything.” The cross-country trip will culminate in New York City where they will continue programming at local partner spaces, including commercial galleries and cultural institutions, as well as nonart venues to broaden their reach. They will also host programming in PES’s new location in downtown Manhattan. “In some cases, it might be as simple as parking the truck outside of a gallery and handing out flyers,” says Jampol.
The final component of “BODY FREEDOM FOR EVERY(BODY)” will be a digital archive displaying work by artists from across the country and amplifying messages of resistance and community. The curated digital space will continue the discourse on the project’s theme of bodily autonomy and provide users with a platform to connect with one another and share resources and educational materials. It will also have a database of resources for those seeking help. While organized by state, the archive represents a borderless space and site of resistance beyond state-specific regulations.
“Community transcends geography,” says Wahi. “With all of our projects, but even more so with our digital archive, we want to send a message that even if you may never see us in real life, we are here, you are here, and you have us.”