unspoken curated by Sarah E Webb

Before you scroll down: For a better viewer experience look at this exhibition on a desktop computer.

On June 24, 2022, in a sweeping and historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion, one upheld for nearly a half-century, ceased to exist. 

It is a ruling that swiftly and decisively affected the lives of every person in this country but weighs most heavily upon any individual capable of carrying a child to term. 

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is not an uncommon experience: nearly one in four women in the United States will undergo an abortion by age 45 for reasons that are deeply personal, yet the stigma around abortion has generationally silenced women for fear of repercussion.

Abortion stories are unspoken stories.

The narrative thread of motherhood will be one forever woven through our collective human consciousness, connecting our unique stories, both fragile and fierce. They are tau(gh)t stories that begin within a reproductive body, and the cost, the courage, and the choice to give birth should remain a choice all the mother’s own.

Rebecca Traister writes how decades of silence had left us unprepared for a post-Roe world, as well as the ensuing battle forward: 

The fewer stories that get told, the more representational weight each one carries. Each individual narrative is asked to stand in for so much, rather than exist simply as one grain of sand on a beach’s worth of reproductive experience. In the lived world, abortion isn’t some heavily weighted reality siloed off from the rest of life, health care, and humanity. 

Abortion is life, health care, and humanity.

unspoken was conceived as a space for women to share their abortion stories. We asked them to consider how they remembered and interpreted a specific moment in their lives. To reflect upon their experience of a moment of need because we are in a moment of urgency again.

The unspoken stories we received were personal, powerful, and poignant. They became the pages of a digital commonplace book that interweaves the stories of women who chose to terminate a pregnancy with Cynthia Mulcahy’s series Abortion Bouquet: An Action. 

Mulcahy makes “abortion bouquets” from traditional abortifacient plants for artists, activists, abortion rights advocates, and allies: contemporary women holding bouquets imbued with the ancient wisdom of midwives. 

Together unspoken explores the multiplicity of ways stories speak through silence and speech. The project offers visual and verbal tropes of women, of how they have (always) been the silent keepers of their reproductive health and safety, and in a post-Roe world, will be called to interpret and navigate again.

unspoken is an act of defiance. The storytellers share their fierceness, and we appreciate their courage. Together these stories create a bouquet, and what were once secrets ceded have become potent seeds to be scattered and sown.

At this critical historical juncture, abortion stories can no longer be held in secret or shame. They must be shared in support and service to generations of future women, to actively be unspoken no more.

Sarah E Webb

unspoken is presented as a collection— no story was rejected, although more were shared privately, without the intent of publication.

The stories are presented strictly in the order they were received. Any editing was minimal in service to clarity rather than content.  

Abortion Bouquet: An Action by Cynthia Mulcahy

The first of many abortion bouquets as part of Cynthia Mulcahy’s Abortion Bouquet: An Action conceived in the days immediately after the leaked draft Supreme Court document–an initial early draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito–that overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights. Comprised of plants Mulcahy grew and harvested in her garden—botanical agents historically used to terminate pregnancies, a traditional plant knowledge now mostly lost—the bouquets are a symbolic gesture. Each hand-cut bouquet was gifted to fellow artists, activists, abortion rights advocates, and allies who agreed to post a photo of their Abortion Bouquets in a virtual social media campaign to highlight the abortion rights fight in the days before the Supreme Court vote scheduled for late June. On June 24th, 2022, the morning Mulcahy was delivering her most recent work, Abortion Seed Library, a surrealist pink clamshell seed archive, the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Cynthia Mulcahy is a Dallas-based conceptual artist and independent curator. Her intermedia works range from large-scale public interventions to small quiet gestures and often defy categorization. Be it a community square dance, farming as street theater, an exhibition examining war or an evening of musical performances to recognize a public city park’s forgotten history, Mulcahy’s research-driven practice often begins in the archive with a desire to re-investigate the historical record for the present moment. Questioning the divisions between various forms of art-related practice, the artist’s work also promotes the concept and practice of art as activism. Mulcahy’s commitment to platforming the work of others through organizing exhibitions has focused on pressing contemporary subjects such as modern warfare and American militarism.

Abortion Bouquet I, Dallas, May 2022
Artist Angel Faz with their Abortion Bouquet IV, May 2022.
Photo credit: Angel Fax

Artist Daniela Cruz with her Abortion Bouquet XXI, June 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Abortion Bouquet XXI (comprised of abortifacient plants: sunflowers,
echinacea, mint, curly dock, thyme, rosemary, sage, onion, fig, fennel).
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy

Rumex crispus AKA curly dock, a wild edible plant historically used as an abortifacient, a type of buckwheat, found all over the prairies, woods and creeks of southern Dallas.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
An abortifacient onion plant flowering in Cynthia Mulcahy’s garden, May 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy

Artist Erika Jaeggli with her Abortion Bouquet XX, June 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Activist Danna Miller Pyke with her Abortion Bouquet XX, June 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Stephanie Leichtle-Chalklen with her Abortion Bouquet, June 2022.
Photo credit: Stephanie Leichtle-Chalklen
Skye McDaniel with her Abortion Bouquet VII, May 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy

Parsley—a very common medicinal and culinary herb as well as an abortifacient plant—producing seeds in Cynthia Mulcahy’s May garden.

Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy

Abortion Bouquet VIII (for Sara).
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Cynthia Mulcahy, Ex herbis femininis, 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Artist Ari Edwards_ Abortion Bouquet II (for Ari), 2022. Photo credit: Ari Edwards
Artist Andrea Tosten with her Abortion Bouquet VI, May 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Lawyer Melissa Thrailkill who volunteers so much of her time for abortion rights posing with her Abortion Bouquet V in my kitchen, May 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Activist Sara Mokuria posing with her Abortion Bouquet VIII in Cynthia Mulcahy’s garden, May 2022. Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy
Mom and daughter with their Abortion Bouquet in my living room at sunset, Dallas, May 2022.
Photo credit: Cynthia Mulcahy


Sarah E. Webb (she/her)

Sarah E. Webb’s path consists of many stitches, but at heart, she is a storyteller. From the artist studio to the yoga studio, her multi-disciplinary approach considers both spaces as creative sites of corporeal process and practice. Webb is the co-editor of Singular Women: Writing the Artist, UC Press (2003) and was a member of the 2021 Listen To Your Mother cast, Rochester, NY. She received her MFA from Visual Studies Workshop, and is currently completing her CPA in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University. Webb  teaches  at the University of Rochester and  facilitates writing and meditation retreats on Monhegan Island, ME. 


In conjunction with the online exhibition unspoken, don’t miss this conversation between curator, Sarah E. Webb and Anne Leighton Massoni.  Read more HERE.

Anne Leighton Massoni, is the former Managing Director of Education at the International Center of Photography. Massoni graduated with a MFA in Photography from Ohio University and BAs in Photography and Anthropology from Connecticut College. Her work relates to ideas of both real and fabricated memories and identity. She has exhibited internationally including The Print Center in Philadelphia, NIH in Washington, DC, Newspace in Portland, and the East-End Film Festival in London. Publications include ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media Art and The Photograph & The Album. She co-edited The Focal Press Companion to the Constructed Image in Contemporary Photography.

Instruments of Memory thanks all the women that shared their stories and the artists participating in this exhibition organized by Sarah E Webb.



Planned Parenthood

American Civil Liberties Union

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Here’s Where You Can Donate to Support Abortion Access Right Now | KCM

How to find, contact, and donate to your local abortion fund

14 Abortion Funds To Support Now That Roe v. Wade Is Overturned—Where To Donate For Abortion Rights


What the SCOTUS leak could mean for abortion | Crooked Media

Stay Mad Like Sam | Crooked Media

Grassroots abortion-rights groups are preparing for a post-Roe V. Wade world : NPR

A Post-Roe America, Part 2: The Abortion Providers – The New York Times


March ’22 Narrative Medicine Rounds with Joshua Prager 

Learn more

Opinion | Roxane Gay: The Roe v. Wade Draft Decision Shows It’s Time to Rage – The New York Times 

A Protest is not a Parade: What are you willing to do?

How to Win the Abortion Argument – The Atlantic 

The Future of Abortion in a post-Roe America

The Family Roe: An American Story

Reading list Why Safe Abortion Access Matters

Stop Telling People in Red States to Move When They’re Faced With Devastating Bans

Intentional Language

I Invented Gilead. The Supreme Court Is Making It Real.

America Almost Took a Different Path Toward Abortion Rights – The New York Times

A Texas Teen-Ager’s Abortion Odyssey 

How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers (and Other Parents) – Lund Humphries

How Not To Exclude Artist Parents: Some Guidelines for Institutions and Residencies

The Janes and the power of pro-abortion imagery

My grandmother’s desperate choice

Rebecca Traister: The Abortion Stories We Didn’t Tell

Is Abortion Sacred

Related posts

Leave a Reply