Yale student abortion art controversy
Aliza Shvarts was a Yale University art student who caused major controversy in 2008 for her proposed senior performance art project. Shvarts currently attends NYU, where she is pursuing a Ph.D in Performance Studies. Shvarts is a published essayist and has appeared on MTV News, where she presented a theoretical reading of Kanye West's recent video project.
On April 17, 2008, the Yale Daily News printed an article detailing the process by which Shvarts reportedly inseminated herself artificially as many times as possible over the course of nine months, during which she also induced abortions using abortifacient drugs. The proposed exhibition of the project was to feature video recordings of the forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process. Shvarts declared that the goal of the project was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body.
"I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity," Shvarts declared. "I think that I'm creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be." Fox News reported that Wanda Franz, President of the National Right to Life Committee denounced Shvarts as a serial killer with "major mental problems", and likened her process of artificial insemination and induced miscarriages to Nazi experiments during the Holocaust.
Yale College statement and rebuttal
Several hours after the initial story broke and a firestorm of press coverage brought down the Yale Daily News website, Yale College issued a press release affirming that the miscarriages and exhibit were performance art. In the press release, the university spokesperson revealed that rather than the alleged cube of miscarried remains, the performance had consisted in the invention of the story of their creation. "Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," it read. "Her art project includes visual representations, a press release and other narrative materials. She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body." Shvarts, in a guest article for the Yale Daily News maintained that she had conducted artificial inseminations as well as self-induced miscarriage procedures (although she was unaware of whether she was pregnant).
For the past year, I performed repeated self-induced miscarriages … Using a needleless syringe, I would inject the sperm near my cervix within 30 minutes of its collection, so as to insure the possibility of fertilization.
On the 28th day of my cycle, I would ingest an abortifacient, after which I would experience cramps and heavy bleeding. ... Because the miscarriages coincide with the expected date of menstruation (the 28th day of my cycle), it remains ambiguous whether the there [sic] was ever a fertilized ovum or not.The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading.—Aliza Shvarts, Yale Daily News, April 18, 2008
Robert Storr, dean of Yale's art school, threatened to ban Shvarts from displaying her project unless she wrote a confession attesting that the project was a fiction and that no human blood would be used.
Scientific testing revealed no traces of human blood in Shvarts's art studio, although a Yale official noted that it was impossible to determine if her project had been examined completely. Yale sources claimed that Shvarts had admitted privately that the project was a fiction, but Shvarts said this was "ultimately inaccurate" and Peter Salovey, then dean of Yale College, announced Shvarts would not be allowed to display her work unless she also confessed publicly that it was "a work of fiction." Shvarts avoided having to sign such a statement by subsequently submitting a different senior project to her department and graduated from Yale University in May, 2008. She also denied that she had ever admitted to the University that her project was a hoax, although a Yale spokeswoman initially claimed that the denial was "part of [Shvarts's] performance" and that Shvarts had promised the University that she would deny having admitted the project was fake if the University stated so publicly. Subsequently, however, Yale admitted that it "had been unable to determine with clarity whether Ms. Shvarts had in fact undertaken actions injurious to her health in carrying out her original project."
Context and reception
Previous artwork by Shvarts was published in Yale University student publication Dimensions: Undergraduate Journal of Art and Art History. Her 2006 piece, entitled Disarticulation, appeared in the Fall 2006 issue; it was a sculpture composed of plaster, vaseline, towels, rubber bands, and latex gloves. Prior to studying at Yale, Shvarts was a student at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, CA, where she was Valedictorian and the recipient of multiple academic and humanitarian awards, including one honoring her "good leadership and good citizenship".
Feminist political commentator Amanda Marcotte praised Shvarts because she "managed to demonstrate the logic that drives things like blood libels and witch-hunts, where a group believes the impossible because it confirms their irrational hatred for a person they've turned into The Other."  Brown University bioethicist and abortion advocate Jacob M. Appel wrote in the Washington Post that "the history of great art is one of controversy and outrage" and that Shvarts was "an imaginative and worthy heir to" Manet and Marcel Duchamp. Shvarts' announcement of the art project was also hailed by science fiction author Charles Stross as the "most inspired publicity-stunt debut in the art world since Damien Hirst." Warren Ellis concurred, claiming that Shvarts "might be the first 'great' conceptual artist of the internet age."
Other commentators, however, condemned Shvarts's project as a "gruesome and pornographic idea" that had been (mistakenly) confused with art. This included both pro-life and pro-choice organizations. For example, Ted Miller, a spokesperson for the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America called the project "offensive and insensitive to the women who have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage," and Wanda Franz, the president of the National Right to Life Committee, called the project "depraved" and described Shvarts as "a serial killer."
- Kinzie, Susan (2008-04-18). "Yale Senior's 'Abortion Art' Whips Up Debate, Protests". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- Soupcoff, Marni (2008-04-17). "Marni Soupcoff's Zeitgeist: Photofiddle, Rentbetter.org, Mandie Brady and Aliza Shvarts". Full Comment. National Post. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- Powers, Martine. "For senior, abortion a medium for art, political discourse", Yale Daily News. April 17, 2008.
- Donaldson-Evans, Catherine (2008-04-17). "Yale Art Student Claims She Used Blood Samples, Video of Self-Induced Abortions for Senior Project". Fox News. Archived from the original on 2008-04-27. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- "Statement by Helaine S. Klasky — Yale University, Spokesperson" April 17, 2008
- Shvarts, Aliza (2008-04-18). "Shvarts explains her ‘repeated self-induced miscarriages’". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 2012-09-20.
- "Yale Student Art Piece May Be Banned". ARTINFO. 2008-04-19. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
- Kaplan, Thomas. No Human Blood in Studio. Yale Daily News April 24, 2008.
- O'Leary, Mary E. Yale Student drops abortion art project
- Kaplan, Thomas. Shvarts submits alternate project. Yale Daily News May 1, 2008.
- "Biography of Aliza Shvarts". Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- Shvarts, Aliza (Fall 2006). "Disarticulation". Dimensions: Undergraduate Journal of Art and Art History 1 (3). Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- Leonard, Tom (2008-04-21). "Abortion art a hoax, claims university". The Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group Limited 2008). Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- Marcotte, Amanda. "A+ for Abortion Art". RH Reality Check. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
- Appel, Jacob M. "The Value of Controversial Art," Washington Post, May 8, 2008, Page A22
- Stross, Charlie (2008-04-17). "Newsweek Invents An Alarming Trend". Making Light. Retrieved 2008-05-01.
- Ellis, Warren (2008-04-17). "The Aliza Shvarts Thing". WarrenEllis.com. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- Lane, Charles. The Art of Folly at Yale, Washington Post, May 3, 2008
- Broussard-Wilson, Samantha. Reaction to Shvarts: Outrage, shock, disgust. Yale Daily News, April 18, 2008.