Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Andrea Bowers

Letters to an Army of Three

Andrea Bowers. Letters to an Army of Three, 2005.

"Letters to an Army of Three" records thirty men and women reading letters sent to abortion rights activists, prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade. The letters were written by people who were desperate to receive safe abortions for themselves or loved ones. The abortion rights activists were a group of three women working together from 1964-73 in the San Francisco Bay area and were nicknamed "The Army of Three." These three women, Patricia Maginnis, Lana Clark Phelan and Rowena Gurner, crusaded for legal abortions and women's health rights and were a major force behind the nation's biggest underground pro-choice movement. They started a list of doctors who would provide safe abortions outside the United States, primarily in Mexico and Japan. The Army of Three received letters from all over the country requesting the list of doctors. In the video, the words from the past come through the voices of those in the present contextualizing historical events in our current situation. The past becomes relevant in the present as many government officials in the United States reconsider outlawing abortions. The setting of the video emulates 18th and 19th century portraiture and still life painting of women with flowers. Each actor is shot with a different floral arrangement and colored fabric backgrounds. In the history of this genre women are displayed as decoration and become synonymous with the flowers. This video reverses the effect of objectification and use the flowers to emphasize the voices of the readers and the content of the letters.


nonviolence, activism, portraiture, Patricia Maginnis, abortion rights, Lana Clark Phelan, Rowena Gurner, Roe v. Wade, still life, feminism

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Los Angeles, CA
United States


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