“It is worth noting that two of the artists who have regularly produced works on abortion, Emma Campbell… and Helena Walsh… combine artistic practice and activism and pay much attention to process and reception, working with women involved in support to abortion and
eliciting a dialogue with the viewers.” (Morrison, 2021, p184)
Emma Campbell is an activist-artist in the completion stages of her PhD on utilising art, primarily photography and performance, as a sexy & magical tool for abortion rights along with Alliance for Choice of whom she is a co- convenor. Her practice is embedded in queer & feminist art and activism. Previously focusing on the issues raised by the lack of abortion access on the island of Ireland and attitudes fostered by colonialism and deep religious conservatism, she makes work that is image-based (photography and collage), participatory, performance-enhanced and active in affecting change.
Bio & Career
Emma Campbell gained her Documentary Photography BA (Hons) at U.W.C.N Newport in 2001, an MFA in Photography at Ulster University in 2012, and continues her practice-based PhD addressing photography as an activist tool, an artist practice and as reflexive academic inquiry in the movement for abortion rights. Inspired by practices employed by the women photography collectives in her historical research, she employs archive images, documentary, film, group performance, found images, street art and collage. For her forthcoming practice supported by University of Atypical she is using photography and sculpture to create a series of pre-Christian-esque artefacts which reimagine fantastical queer feminist icons. Emma collaborates frequently with Irish artist Siobhán Clancy and is co-convenor of Alliance for Choice. Emma has exhibited in solo shows in Belfast, Dublin & Berlin and in group shows in London, Liverpool, Donegal, Dublin, Belfast, Stockholm, and Bangkok as well as street art and online.1
Emma is also on the Board of Directors for Outburst Queer Arts, HereNI and The343 Queer Feminist space. For her forthcoming practice she is creating a series of celtic–feminist-fantasy artefacts & portraits which concoct fantastical queer icons. Emma has exhibited in solo shows in Belfast, Dublin & Berlin and in group shows in London, Liverpool, Donegal, Dublin, Belfast, Stockholm, and Bangkok as well as street art and online. Emma gained her Documentary Photography BA (Hons) at U.W.C.N Newport in 2001, an MFA in Photography at Ulster University in 2012 and worked as a professional photographer and picture editor in London for over a decade for orgs such as the BBC, The Times London and Network Photographers.
Photography books by the artist
- 2012, When they put their hands out like scales, Blurb 2
Written by the artist
- 2017, March, Publication of artworks in “Female Lines Anthology” edited by Dawn Sherrat-Bado, London
- 2016, Autumn, “Mind the Gap: Working papers on Practice-based Research in the Creative Arts” Edited by Desmond Bell, National College of Art and Design, Dublin3
- 2022, April, Bloomer, F. & Campbell, E. (Eds.). Decriminalising Abortion in Northern Ireland, Volume 1 Legislation and Protest. & Decriminalising Abortion in Northern Ireland, Volume 2 Allies and Abortion Provision. Bloomsbury
Awards and honours
- 2022, Special Recognition Award with Alessia Cargnelli, University of Ulster.
- 2019, October, “An Appropriate Hobby” Street art intervention, Belfast Cathedral Quarter, NI
- 2016, September, Street Art, This C*nt Bites Back, Belfast, NI
- 2015, October, Array Studios, A suitable hobby, INCUBE Solo show, Belfast
- 2014, September, “When they put their hands out like scales” 3 projects Platform Arts, Belfast NI
- 2014, July, Belfast Exposed, in progress work with Women on Waves archives and historical research
- 2014, March, When they put their hands out like scales” month long residency and exhibition at OKK Gallery Berlin
- 2013, March, When they put their hands out like scales, Copper House Gallery, Dublin
- 2022, May, A Bigger Picture – Queer/Feminist Photo Survey, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast curated by Clare Gallagher, Clare Gormley and Anna Leisching
- 2022, March, Collage: A Political Act (2022) at Ulster Museum, Belfast curated by Anna Leisching
- 2021/2022, Dec – May, An Appropriate Hobby, group show, The Mayor’s Parlour, curated by Jane Morrow with Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell and Emma Campbell
- 2019, March, 209 Women, Open Eye Gallery Group Show, Liverpool
- 2019, July – Eilean nam Ban, Theatre Delicatessen Broadgate, London – An exhibition of works by womxn artists that have been inspired by the extraordinary lives of ordinary womxn. 4
- 2019, January “Reimagining Global Abortion Politics” Book Launch/Solo Exhibition, UNIQUE, Ulster University
- 2018, December, 209 Women, Group Show, Palace of Westminster, London
- 2018, March, Passport Butterflies, Group Show for Intl Women’s Day Lunasa, Belfast
- 2018, January, My Body My Life exhibition, Foyles Gower Street London
- 2017, December, My Body My Life exhibition in UNIQUE, Ulster University, Belfast
- 2016, December Street Art Bites Back – Framewerk, Belfast
- 2016, October, Someone you Love – Copper House Gallery
- 2016, October, A Suitable Hobby – Film Base, Dublin
- 2016, June, Labour of Love with Siobhan Clancy and Melissa Madera, Incube, Array Studios
- 2016, March, An Appropriate Hobby, Bangkok (INROADS Stigma Busting International Gathering)
- 2016, June, Two for Many, Pollen Studios, Belfast
- 2015, Oct-Nov, Two for Many, Trans Art Cavan, Array Studios collective show
- 2015, June, Black Box Belfast – Silt and Stones: Instagram 4 women, 1 poet, 3 photographers project
- 2014, December 2014 Stockholm – “Pack up your troubles” Panrummet Gallery Sweden
- 2012, July, When they put their hands out like scales, PhotoIreland, Dublin
Array Collective Exhibitions
- 2022, August, Array Collective, Turner Prize 2021 ‘The Druithaib’s Ball’ & other works, The Galway Arts Centre, Galway
- 2021/2022, September – January, Array Collective at Turner Prize 2021 ‘The Druithaib’s Ball’, The Herbert Coventry, Tate Britain
- 2019, October, “As others see us” Jerwood Collaborate! As Array Studios Collective, October 2019 – January 2020
- 2018, October, ‘Demolition is not a Means’ Array Group Show and street art project
- 2018, February, Those Actual Words Array group show at Framewerk, Belfast
- When they put their hands out like scales
Power, exercised as control, has blighted the reproductive rights of humans worldwide for centuries.
National ideals of motherhood and acceptable female behaviour are threaded through anti- choice arguments. To represent the ‘abortion journey’ experience, in effect it becomes the “fulcrum of a much broader ideological struggle in which the very meanings of family, the state, motherhood, and …women’s sexuality are contested”.
The polemic surrounding abortion is bewildering. Ambiguity and conflict are played out in the passing landscapes and impersonal details of the journey to the clinic overseas, echoed by the political bluster and suffocating reality of the legal constrictions. Layers of glass and reflection acknowledge the obfuscatory and morally indignant language used by politicians and anti-choice campaigners.
The enforced exile across the sea to the former colonial bosom, shrouded in secrecy and shame, is still one of the few options for women in the island of Ireland.
All of these photographs were made sitting by windows during journeys to abortion clinics in Liverpool and London. 5
 Petchesky, Rosalind. Abortion and Women’s Choice: The State, Sexuality and Reproductive Freedom London: Verso1986 pp. 69
- Women on Waves
On 11 June 2001, Women on Waves (W.o.W.) set sail from the Netherlands for Ireland, a country with the most restrictive abortion law in Europe.
Five days later, over 300 women had called the ship’s hotline. Women who had been raped, schoolgirls, mothers who could not pay for childcare or a journey to England, political refugees who did not have travel documents and many more. W.o.W. counselled women with unwanted pregnancies, did pregnancy tests, ultrasound scans to establish pregnancy dates and provided information about and distributed contraceptives.
Today Women on Waves also operates as Women on Web, distributing the abortion pill to women in countries like Ireland and Northern Ireland where abortion is still almost impossible to access legally.
After being given access to the W.o.W. archives in March of this year, I began to work with these images, wishing to acknowledge the colonial and religious factors preventing access to abortion. Thanks to post-1861 images from the National Library of Ireland and the British Library, I was able to combine all three.
This work is currently being shown as part of A Bigger Picture – Queer/Feminist Photo Survey – Golden Thread Gallery Belfast curated by Clare Gallagher, Clare Gormley and Anna Leisching. Also as part of Collage: A Political Act (2022) at the Ulster Museum, Belfast. 6
- An Appropriate Hobby
Both colour photography and the laws against abortion in Ireland were first introduced by the British in 1861, in an era of women’s suffrage. Much like photography, the movement that would evolve into feminism was a product of modernity; photography embodied the new obsession with empirical evidence and visual culture whilst the suffrage movement was a cry for recognition and equality, against the backdrop of new widespread industrialisation and the resulting slum conditions that fostered growing political awareness amongst women and workers. Butterflies are often regarded as symbols of freedom and change by many cultures, their capture and collection can reflect the harsh and sometimes fatal consequences of trying to pin down sexual behaviour and confine people to rigid gender stereotypes. It also echoes the Victorian patriarchal and colonial attitudes that attempted to categorise and control nature, to codify behaviours, quantify and objectify in the name of scientific ‘reason’.
An Appropriate Hobby encompasses the legacy of suffragette struggle with contemporary feminism, it links up the new picture technologies utilised for popular apps such as Instagram with Victorian categorisation and references the first ever colour photograph. It also overlays the issue of bodily autonomy, central to contemporary feminism, onto ideas within dominant patriarchal discourse about appropriate gendered sexual behaviour. Importantly, it also allows the abortion rights movement to take back the visual terrain without demuring. 7
- Divine it Yourself
This is a new project featuring portraits of queer people in Belfast, including drag performers, activists, performance artists and those embracing a hopeful queer existence in community.
Inspired by queer feminist science fictions, which centre fantasies where power is subverted and magic is reimagined, I will create queer, disabled, body positive & inclusive ‘artefacts’. Informed by pop, punk, queer and feminist repurposing of divine beings, I aim to visualise rituals for gender queer and non conforming deities that elicit those destroyed by churches and institutions of capital. The work will ‘queer’ ancient religious rites and relics and create a world playfully subverting of the dominant narratives around our emotional and sexual lives.
As a queer person with Dyspraxia, I have a slippery relationship with physical space, time, hierarchies, sequencing and systems. The creative and chaotic approach to my navigation of temporal and institutional spaces, will be explored via an anachronistic archaeology of the future. The work wants to make fissures of joyful resistance.
My practice is embedded in queer & feminist art and activism. Previously focusing on the issues raised by the lack of abortion access on the island of Ireland and attitudes fostered by colonialism and deep religious conservatism, I make work that is image-based (photography and collage), participatory, performance-enhanced and active in affecting change.
Array Collective are a group of individual artists rooted in Belfast, who join together to create collaborative actions in response to the sociopolitical
issues affecting Northern Ireland. Array’s studios and project space in the city centre acts as a base for the collective, however the participating artists are not limited to studio holders. Array Collective members are: Thomas Wells, Alessia Cargnelli, Emma Campbell, Clodagh Lavelle, Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell and Laura O’Connor (all Array Studio members) as well as Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell, Jane Butler (Flax), Gracie McMurrary (QSS), Mitch Conlon (PS2) and Stephen Millar (Creative Exchange). 8
“While artists can often write themselves into radical positions from inside the nurturing spaces of galleries, Array have reacted spontaneously and generously to the needs of their city. They have shown up on the streets and brought energy, wit, historical irreverence and a sense of the absurd to the bleak political decisions of the past decade.” (Hickey and Morrow, 2021)
The Druithaib’s Ball, New commissioned installation at the Herbert Gallery of Coventry, commissioned by Tate, curated by Hammad Nasar and Alice O’Rourke, September 2021-January 2022. Detailed information on Array’s The Druithaib’s Ball can be found here.
External links & References
- The symposium is a collaboration between the Courtauld’s Gender and Sexuality Research Group and the Northern Irish Art Network. Northern Ireland’s Feminist and Queer Art Histories explored the ways in which attention to gender and sexuality can help us rethink the writing of Northern Irish art history. Keynotes: Dr Fionna Barber (Reader in Art History in the Manchester School of Art) and Emma Campbell (Activist/Artist/Academic and member of Array Collective). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5Vk2812OE4
- Morrison, V. (2021). Chapter 14 Countering allegorical motherhood in Irish and Northern Irish contemporary art: The female body as a tool for resistance. In: F. Portier-Le Cocq, ed., Motherhood in contemporary international perspective : continuity and change https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=NyysDwAAQBAJ&pg=GBS.PT175&hl=en_GB
- Meet the Irish Photographer Documenting Women in Ireland Who Must Travel Abroad for Safe Abortion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w1xeNGBJX8
- Women Vs Everything – Today we interview Activist-Artist Emma Campbell (she/her) about life growing up in Northern Ireland, the ongoing campaign for pro-choice services and the intersection between photography and performance as a sexy, magical tool for activism.https://womenvseverything.podbean.com/e/episode-24-interview-with-emma-campbell/
- Fertile Ground: reframing the abortion experience in art and activism https://hero-magazine.com/article/121439/fertile-ground-reframing-the-abortion-experience-in-art-and-activism
- Brian Dillon selects graduate portfolioshttps://www.source.ie/graduate/2012/selection3_ma.php
- How To Capture the 8th Amendment, Posted On March 27, 2018 By College Tribune https://collegetribune.ie/how-to-shoot-the-8th-with-a-camera/
- Speaking of silence, speaking of art, abortion and Ireland by Suzanna Chan https://doi.org/10.1080/09670882.2018.1560892 / https://www.emmacampbell.co.uk/projects-and-publications/2021/6/7/speaking-of-silence-speaking-of-art-abortion-and-ireland-by-suzanna-chan https://photographyarchivesireland.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/the-politics-of-the-long-haul-photography-pro-choice-artistic-practices-and-the-archive/
- Ciara Hickey and Jane Morrow
- Turner Prize 2021 _ Irish Pub wins https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-59490291
- March 2022 – Talk Art – Season 12 episode 12, 23/03/2022 https://shows.acast.com/talkart/episodes/array-collective
- November 2021 – Women Shaping the World Podcast – Institut Francais. Episode 8 – Special Episode with Turner Prize Winners Array Collective
- July/Aug 2021 – Visual Artists Ireland , Episode 5, Podcast
- Ultra violet podcast https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1453615015020326
- The art of politics and the politics of art – Red Lines – Can art catalyse political change? Mark Carruthers interviews Stephen Millar and Emma Campbell of Array Collective