After abortion, rape. Laia Abril (Barcelona, 1986), revealed internationally with the multi-award series On Abortion in 2016, he returns now with a new work dedicated to sexual aggressions, the second installment of his photographic research on the different forms that misogyny takes across the planet. On monkfish, what it is exhibited in the gallery Les Filles du Calvaire in Paris until February 22, calls into question a global culture that, through a series of social norms, power dynamics and gender stereotypes, has normalized sexual assaults on women. “More than a photo report, I wanted it to be an essay,” says the photographer, denouncing a global culture “that teaches not to be raped, rather than to stop raping.”
Abril is trained as a journalist, but her work is not an orthodox photo report: she alternates the image with the text, the documents and the objects, faithful to her willingness to energize the conventions of a genre that is not useful for fulfilling her mission. April, who got involved as an editor in the magazine ColorsHe has distanced himself conscientiously from a traditional practice of photojournalism, because he believes that a handful of snapshots would never reach the same depth. The photographer works with researchers and other experts – many times, at a distance – and recreates images when she cannot capture them. His exhibitions are spaces for reflection of diffuse contours, where there are no categorical truths or lessons to learn..
“It is an even less journalistic work than the previous one. Photographing the facts I describe would be extremely difficult. And besides, the exhibition is not about that, ”he says. In the previous series the characters and the archive work remained. In this new work, the photographs are much more allegorical. The case of La Manada is evoked with a simple burundanga leaf, the hallucinogenic plant that the aggressors would have used before assaulting their prey. A chastity belt recalls the control mechanisms of the female body that have existed historically, from medieval times to the present. In the caption, Abril reveals that different companies sell intimate garments that protect the sexual organs of women from their possible aggressors. Again, if they want to prevent the worst from happening, it is they who have to take action on the matter. Something further, an impolite wedding dress recalls the story of Alina, a young woman from Kyrgyzstan kidnapped, raped and forced to marry her aggressor. His testimony appears in the sample, but his face does not appear anywhere. What does not subtract an iota of drama to its history.
April was interested in collecting the testimonies of the victims, but also underlining the dysfunctions of justice and a value system that allows the aggressions to continue happening on a massive scale. From his approach to other cultures, he concluded that the will to dominate the female body was an anthropological universal. “In some countries there are laws that force you to marry your rapist, as in Italy until a few decades ago. In many states, rape within marriage is not yet criminalized. In others, it is even legal, ”says Abril, who admits having had difficulties in generating a discourse in the face of the feeling of injustice he was experiencing. “What has cost me the most is not to get trapped in anger and frustration,” he acknowledges.
As was the case in his series on abortion, born from the failed draft bill of the Rajoy Government in 2014 – which will be exhibited from February at the Museum of Sex in New York-, April has been inspired by recent news. It was the social debate opened by the La Manada trial and other cases of violent sexual behavior that prompted April to open its investigation. “I wanted to look for the whys from a cultural point of view. Why is it not understood in Spain that a husband can also rape his wife? Why is the victim the one who is tried and not her aggressor? ”Asks April, who is the origin of the term -“ rape as a rapture or theft of a woman’s virtue ”- is problematic.
The MeToo managed to introduce the notion of consent into the public debate. But, as is often the case with any social advance, it also generated a violent reaction in certain sectors. “Now I feel freer when talking about some issues, but I think that what has been released on the one hand is trying to restrict more strongly on the other,” says April. “Also, when you research globally, you realize that what is obvious in your circle is almost never in India or South Africa.” Or in Spain itself, where the case of La Manada was followed by a progression of group rapes, such as the one denounced by a 14-year-old teenager in Manresa (Barcelona) in July 2019. On the European continent, a Recent EU report argued that one in twenty women has been raped throughout their lives, and only eight countries have legal definitions of rape based on lack of consent. Traditional photojournalism has tended to look for these realities in war zones and distant continents. Laia Abril does it knocking at our doors.
On monkfish. Les Filles du Calvaire Gallery. Paris. Until February 22.
On Abortion. Museum of Sex NY. From February 7 to October 15.