You'll notice the nail polish on some of Cressandra Thibodeaux's photographic studies of the female nude where each model lies inert on her back.
Then you'll observe the works where a mirror sits precisely where the woman's genitals should be. Viewers insert their reflections into the contested area—a zone one photograph labels as "regulated more than a gun."
Thibodeaux says she intends the exhibition—titled "My Box" and on display at G-Spot Gallery in the Heights through August 26—as a pointed commentary on the contemporary reproductive rights debate, one in which a woman's bodily autonomy remains governed primarily by men.
"Why are your views in my box? We should move on from that dialogue," Thibodeaux says. "My views are not up in your testicles."
For the longest time, Thibodeaux's Catholic-bred worldview eliminated abortion as even a remote possibility. But that changed in 2009 after her fifth round of in vitro fertilization led to an ectopic pregnancy where a fertilized egg lodged itself in her fallopian tubes. If the pregnancy were to proceed, said her doctor, the tube could have ruptured and killed her. Thibodeaux hesitated about abortion even then, praying alternately for the egg to move to her uterus—a medical impossibility—or for her to muster the strength to administer a methotrexate injection that would terminate the pregnancy.
The struggle continued until Christmas Eve, when she looked herself in the bathroom mirror and pressed the prescribed needle into her abdomen. "It was the lowest point in my life and one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself," she writes in the exhibition's artist's statement.
"I’ve been meditating on that lately, and thinking about how that felt, and how that came about," Thibodeaux says. "Why did I have those views? Why didn’t I love myself more? Whenever I look back, on my life, that is the one question I usually ask: Why didn’t I love myself more?"
For her, the answer is a culture of dominance and misogyny stretching back to parts of the Bible. That culture is one motivation for the exhibition's other pieces that swap out the mirrored box for a television screen. Between those women's legs, a cavalcade of male speakers—including President Trump, Vice President Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz—expound upon how and why these boxes must be regulated.
However, you might not immediately recognize one on-screen face: former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, whose infamous "legitimate rape" comments implied a woman's body could somehow block an unwanted pregnancy. The bizarre statement, made in a 2012 interview with a St. Louis TV station, signaled his near-absolute opposition to abortion.
More than half a decade later, Thibodeaux sputters with disbelief as she recalls Akin's words. It's a dilemma to which her work offers a very clear message.
"A man has rights to his body; a woman could, too," she says. "This is the view I’m trying to get at."
Artist talk Sunday, August 12, at 1 p.m. Exhibition thru August 26. Free. G-Spot Contemporary Art Space, 310 E. 9th St. 832-807-6988. More info at gspotgallery.com.