When artists set out with the primary purpose of making a political point the art usually fails. The artists may feel passionate about the politics, so there is emotion as well as thought–but still they fail to make good art. I remembered this when I tried to get creative friends to create Act III of the story of climate disruption: none even tried. But Paul Rego succeeded with her abortion pictures.
All the girls at the Slade in the 50s had abortions, said Rego in the documentary about her life and work made by her son and shown on television in March. She had several, terrified of what her strict Portuguese mother would think of her having a baby by a married man. Her abortions were, of course, illegal, “backstreet abortions.” Tens of thousands of women around the world die every year through illegal abortions. Rego described how fishwives in Portugal would perform them on the beach. The abortions Rego and her friends had were performed by doctors and seemed not to be so risky, although even the safest abortion can be an awful experience.
Rego believes passionately that women should be able to have safe abortions, but they remained illegal except in extreme circumstances in Portugal after a referendum in 1998. She contributed to a second referendum in 2007 by producing a series of paintings and etchings showing graphically the experience of abortion. In the documentary Portuguese politicians said that her pictures had contributed to abortion becoming legal.
The pictures are both politically and artistically successful.