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Artist Laia Abril puts rape under the spotlight

The RPS Honorary Fellow uses conceptual art to examine institutionalised sexual violence

Ala kachuu (Bride kidnapping), Kyrgyzstan, 2019’, from the series On Rape


A wedding dress, military fatigues, a sports kit ... Each of these outfits represents the story of a rape survivor.  

Alina from Kyrgyzstan only met her husband on the night of their wedding – she was later raped by the man she had been forced to marry. Meredith, a soldier in the US, was raped by her commanding officer. Tumi, who was thrown out of home as a teenager in South Africa for being a lesbian, was abducted and raped while sleeping rough.  

The garments, laid out and photographed in black and white against a plain background, appear in On Rape and Institutional Failure, published in book form by Dewi Lewis. The latest chapter in A History of Misogyny, a long-term project by Barcelona-based visual artist Laia Abril HonFRPS, the work is being exhibited at Copeland Gallery, London. 


A spread from the book On Rape and Institutional Failure by Laia Abril HonFRPS (Dewi Lewis, 2022) 


Abril’s ongoing series, which also includes the chapter On Abortion, traces the historic origins of contemporary gender stereotypes and violence against women.

“There is a burden that we put on [rape survivors],” says Abril. “Your body becomes a form of evidence and you’re asked to prove over and over that you’re a victim.” 


A spread from the book On Rape and Institutional Failure by Laia Abril HonFRPS (Dewi Lewis, 2022) 


By showing less, she says more. Just as this clothing could be worn by anyone, so rape could happen to anyone. Crucially, though, Abril wanted to shift attention from individuals to institutions such as schools, prisons, religions or marriage, pointing to the systemic nature of rape culture. “In order to avoid feeding the systemic victim-blaming society, I decided to switch the visual narrative from the victim to the institutions,” she explains in her artist’s statement for On Rape.

When the project has been exhibited, these images are the first thing visitors see on entering the gallery space. Presented as life-size prints, together with accompanying testimonies, their impact is profound. 

“When you’re there in the room, surrounded by them, you have this social accountability,” says Abril. “Because we’re all part of the problem.” 


From On Rape by Laia Abril HonFRPS


All images by Laia Abril HonFRPS/Galerie Filles Du Calvaire

The books On Rape and Institutional Failure and On Abortion and the Repercussions of Lack of Access by Laia Abril HonFRPS are published by Dewi Lewis. The exhibition On Rape is at Copeland Gallery, London, 10-27 November 2022.

Read more about Laia Abril HonFRPS in a special issue of the RPS Journal celebrating the 2022 RPS Awards. 

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