Abortion rights protesters covered themselves in fake blood and staged a “die-in” outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Thursday afternoon, resulting in three arrests for felony vandalism. Activists chained themselves to the cast-iron lampposts of Chris Burden’s outdoor sculpture installation “Urban Light” (2008) and populated the premises with body bags and clothes hangers, drawing attention to lives threatened by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The action included members of Vets Rise 4 Roe as well as RiseUp 4 Abortion Rights, a new reproductive rights activism group that has been criticized for its ties to fringe political theorist Bob Avakian of the RevCom Party, often described as a cult.
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About two dozen protesters gathered at LACMA’s Wilshire Boulevard entrance on July 28 and quickly shut down traffic on both sides of the street, according to a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) release reviewed by Hyperallergic. The demonstration featured a performance reenacting the death of Connecticut woman Gerri Santoro from an illegal botched abortion in 1964. Two artists, Victoria Eggers and Lavi Bourne, were arrested along with another activist named Sean for the alleged vandalism caused to Burden’s piece.
“I am putting my body on the line here today as a call to action because we cannot sit idly by as we are robbed of our freedom, rights, and futures,” Bourne announced to a crowd of onlookers. “No business as usual when you take away our rights.”
“This is not a protest against LACMA, but a call to the arts community, and to all of society: Silence is compliance,” Eggers said as LAPD officers placed her in handcuffs.
Police claim that the damage to the museum’s private property caused them to respond and issue a dispersal order, but members of RiseUp countered that the installation is regularly populated with pedestrians and local skateboarders. In a statement to Hyperallergic, a LACMA spokesperson said, “A protest was held in front of Urban Light on July 28, and red dye was splashed on some lamp posts and the concrete around the work. Repairs to the damaged portions will be required. Urban Light reopened by 7 pm that same night.”
“Urban Light,” one of Burden’s most iconic works, consists of restored street lamps from the 1920s and ‘30s that are now solar-powered. According to the late artist, the piece represents a sophisticated city that is “safe after dark and beautiful to behold.”
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Eggers, who is also a United States Army veteran, countered police claims and detailed how Burden’s legacy served as inspiration for nonviolent protest.
“Our intention was never to destroy the art but to have it as a staged background,” she said. “Even while we were chained to the poles, we made sure not to rub the chains against them or cause any damage to the art piece. We just wanted to bring attention to Burden’s role as a radical performance artist himself. I actually created the fake blood from washable kids paint, and it was so diluted that our clothes turned pink, not red.”
Eggers also said that she and the other protesters were released Friday morning after a RiseUp member posted their bail.
Founded in January of this year, RiseUp is an affiliate organization of the Revolutionary Communist Party calling for a “mass, sustained, nonviolent protest to demand the federal government restore legal nationwide abortion,” per its website. But the group has been highly criticized in recent months, with some activists accusing it of diverting money from and exploiting social justice movements. In a statement, the collective NYC For Abortion Rights described RiseUp’s tactics, such as including red paint and coat hangers in their protests, as contributing to “the extremely harmful idea that abortion is a violent procedure and safe self-managed abortion is not possible.”