The coronavirus pandemic has brought on a plethora of difficulties, from shortages of masks to attacks on a woman's right to a safe abortion. New York-based artist Hannah Bates is confronting both of these issues with her latest project, @pantyrespirator.
Bates' @pantyrespirator is an ongoing social media performance piece that examines crisis, economics and sex to emphasize how reproductive rights are an essential form of health care. Bates, who studied pornography during her MFA, was inspired by how sex and sexuality can coexist with feminism and women's rights. "It informs my art practice in that pornography and sex and people's perceptions of it reflect a lot of stereotypes that people have," she tells PAPER.
Through @pantyrespirator, Bates is challenging these stereotypes. The masks, an increasingly essential resource, are made from her underwear. They "come to life" by Bates photographing them. The photos of the masks are then posted on Depop, for roughly the same price as an abortion — $950. Bates explains that this is anything but a thoughtless stunt. "The project uses a capitalist model to hold reproductive rights to the same standard as universal health," Bates says, thus pointing out the hypocrisy in not doing so. It's true: universal health is something we need right now.
The performance, which began on April 1, has received varying responses since Bates started posting on Depop and Instagram. Women have expressed their support, while many cis men saw the project as insensitive and dangerous, expressing concern for their health amid the spread of misinformation regarding respirators. Bates counters this with the question, "What about my health?", making the powerful statement that reproductive rights needs to be taken seriously, remaining intact even as other challenges coexist at this time.
@pantyrespirator currently lives on Depop and the artist's Instagram, but Bates is looking to expand to other platforms, such as Etsy, as the project evolves. Addtionally, a portion of the proceeds from the panty masks sold are also going to independent clinics that serve communities in Texas, Alabama, Iowa, and Ohio, as well as Planned Parenthood. Learn how you can support these communities directly, here.
For more on Hannah Bates, visit her website.
Photos courtesy of Hannah Bates