Ann Shelton arranges flowers into beautiful photographs for a show about a women’s right to control her fertility

Ann Shelton arranges flowers into beautiful photographs for a show about a women’s right to control her fertility
Ann Shelton, The Floozy, Ginger (Zingiber sp.), 2015-ongoing. Photo courtesy of Denny Dimin Gallery.
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On view at New York’s Denny Dimin Gallery, Shelton has selected one fertility-related plant for each photograph, and titled the works according to stereotypical female archetypes like the scarlet woman, the vixen, or the ingenue. All the flowers, herbs, seeds and plants she has carefully selected in each vase have been used to treat some type of reproductive health issue.

The stories she references in her works date back centuries ago when women began sharing recipes for remedies believed to help in managing a healthy fertility journey. Knowledge of these ointments, tonics, tinctures and botanical concoctions were largely lost over time as the church sought to rid of traditions associated with witchcraft, as herbalists once were.

In an exchange with artnet News, Shelton said that the “suppression of information can be seen as part of a long line of alienating acts for women centering around the female body—reaching from the medieval period through colonization and into medicine through the invention of hysteria and limited access to healthcare for women, and into present critical debates” in the US regarding rights to abortion.
Shelton’s poignant works are especially relevant today with the growing number of US states attempting to pass laws that restrict access to abortion for women. Most recently, the state of Alabama signed a bill into law that makes abortions illegal with the sole exception of when a mother’s life is at risk. Several states like Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi have followed suit and approved a bill commonly referred to as the heartbeat bill, which bans abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. The sixth week is when the fetus’s heartbeat can be detected but can be before women know that they are pregnant.

“I am profoundly sad for the women and men who will be affected by these new laws,” Shelton added. “We are not through the other side of attempts to control women’s bodies, and that is what makes this discussion, and the area I am focusing on in the work, such an important debate to continue.”

Shelton, who is originally from New Zealand, has spent many years researching the history of botany and herbs as they relate to fertility. One book she mentions, Eve’s Herbs, by John Riddle, suggests that consuming large amounts of ginger or fennel can cause a miscarriage.

“I am interested in deepening our understanding of plants and our relationship to them. We have become alienated from nature,” Shelton added.

Shelton’s photographs, beautiful as they may be, display plants in unnatural states however. They are carefully arranged and photographed against flat, colourful and vibrant studio backgrounds.

“The control exerted over the plants I have represented is paralleled in the attempted control of women’s bodies,” Shelton said. “I’m linking the domestic sphere of floral arrangement, botany, medicine, feminism, and photographic histories.”

See more works in the exhibition below.