Seven women gather in Halifax’s Fort Needham Memorial Park; their white dresses stained with red paint.
The women lie down in the grass, hold hands, and stare blankly into the camera.
The group is participating in the recreation of an art project led by 17-year-old high school student, Robyn Bell-LaFleche.
“A woman’s right to have an abortion is being taken away – that is unacceptable,” Bell-LaFleche says to the group.
The Grade 12 student spent a month planning for the photo shoot, which took place on Sunday. Her goal is to raise awareness in her community about the right to abortion.
Abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988, and Nova Scotia is one of the only provinces that provides abortion access in private clinics. But in the United States, the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June, making abortions inaccessible in some states.
Bell-LaFleche was scrolling on Instagram in July when she came across a photo she found compelling. It showed about a dozen women in white dresses with bloodstains on the front.
View this post on Instagram
Moved by the piece, Bell-LaFleche reached out to the original artist, asking for permission to recreate it.
New York-based photographer Nicolina Scibona was “absolutely flattered and thrilled” that LaFleche was so inspired by her work.
Scibona conceptualized the piece after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“I remember the morning of June 24, waking up to see the flood of outrage in the news and on social media. I wasn’t sure what to do with my emotions, honestly. So, the only thing I knew to do was make art,” Scibona said in an interview.
Scibona found most of her participants on TikTok. Bell-LaFleche also posted on social media and tacked flyers on lampposts around her North-end neighbourhood.
Bell-LaFleche wanted to recreate the piece in Halifax to make her community aware of the impact of overturning a ruling like Roe v Wade. “If it can happen in the States, who’s to say it can’t happen here?” she said.
She was “so excited” to hear from more than 10 people, but not all of them were able to make it on the day of the shoot.
Avery Worobec, who photographed Sunday’s shoot, thought that Bell-LaFleche’s idea to recreate the piece was great. “We go to school together. I’m glad I got to collaborate with her on something like this,” she said.
Bell-LaFleche has always had an interest in art, mainly drawing and painting, and only recently developed an interest in photography.
Elisabeth Bell is proud that her daughter has found an outlet for her struggles with social anxiety.
“Through visual art, Robyn is able to make sense of the world around her, express her inner turmoil, and focus her energies on issues she is passionate about,” Bell said.
Bell-LaFleche’s awareness of social issues grew significantly this year. In May, she encountered a co-worker who deepened her understanding of feminism.
“She made me feel like my passion for these things had a place, a purpose. Sometimes Halifax feels really small and isolating but finding people who care about the same issues as me is nice,” she said.
Coming across art like Scibona’s on social media inspires her to continue creating her own work.
Scibona said she believes that art is the most powerful tool for confronting contemporary issues.
“I want people to feel uncomfortable because then they’re forced to think more about what exactly they’re looking at. [They’re] forced to confront this very real outcome to the laws that are being imposed onto millions of people. Art is undeniably powerful,” she said.
Bell-LaFleche agrees. She plans to share her own work on social media and with news outlets in Halifax in an effort to kickstart a conversation. She hopes to find others to collaborate with on similar art projects in the future.
About the author
Fiona Clancey is a master's student in journalism at the University of King's College. She obtained her Bachelor of Music in voice from Mount...