‘Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance’
“A woman, half of her face pressed into the mattress, is curled up in the fetal position on a metal bedstead; another lies on white sheets, her legs spread wide, the skirt of her yellow dress bunched up around her waist; a third, a bare-legged schoolgirl, still wearing her uniform, squats over a plastic bucket. Paula Rego’s potent Triptych (1997–1998) was created as a response to the 1998 referendum in Portugal, when the government failed to legalize abortion thanks to opposition from the Catholic Church and pro-life campaigners,” writes Lucy Scholes. “Rego is vehemently pro-choice, and has spoken of the desperate fishermen’s wives, often mothers already several times over, who’d turn up at the house Rego shared with her husband when they were living in the Portuguese village of Ericeira in the 1960s, begging for money for backstreet abortions, not to mention the occasional body, stomach swollen like a cow’s, found floating in the harbor from one gone wrong.
In both Triptych and the accompanying Abortion Pastels (1998–1999), Rego’s subjects are physically vulnerable, but it’s clear that she’s not painting victims. Rego has depicted women who’ve taken action to wrest back control of their lives, women who’ve made a choice. Indeed, the openness of both their legs and their clear-eyed gazes is strangely inviting, tingeing these portraits with a disquieting eroticism. The theme permeates Rego’s work: sex and violence, as seen, more often than not, through the prism of female experience. Perhaps because we are increasingly aware of just how precarious abortion rights actually are, but these particularly arresting pastels dominate “Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance,” an exhibition of over eighty works that has recently opened at the new MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, England.”
For more information, visit mkgallery.org.
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