Kate on Fourth Plinth in abortion access protest
Jess McCabe // 8 October 2009
F-Word contributor Kate Smurthwaite faked her way onto the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in a protest about lack of abortion access for Northern Irish women.
Here’s the press release (and you can see photos here)
PRESS RELEASE: Fake plinther highlights the hurdles Northern Irish women face accessing abortions
Abortion rights campaigner and comedienne Kate Smurthwaite impersonated her way into Anthony Gormley’s exhibit One & Other on the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square Wedenesday, quite possibly becoming the world’s first living art forgery.
One & Other is an art project by the Anthony Gormley, putting up one person every hour from around the UK onto the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square from 6 July through 14 October and webcast live at http://www.oneandother.co.uk/.
This slot was originally allocated to Goretti Horgan from Alliance for Choice, the campaign for Northern Irish women to be given the right to an abortion. However, Kate Smurthwaite, at Horgan’s request, secretly took Horgan’s place.
“Of course it would take a lot of effort and cost a lot of money for Goretti to come over to be on the fourth plinth —just like the effort and expense incurred by women from Northern Ireland who are forced to travel to England, Wales and Scotland to access abortion services,” Smurthwaite said. “So we decided instead that I would go along and impersonate her.”
The staff at One & Other carefully check identification to ensure that the winners of the plinth drawing receive their spot.
Smurthwaite explained the ruse: “Goretti sent me her passport and a utility bill and luckily they were busy in the office and didn’t check the photo too closely. I am also 20 years younger than Goretti so lucky they didn’t check that either. I was being careful to play along but it was difficult especially since one of the women in the One & Other office was called Kate so I had to concentrate on not looking up when they called her name.”
The ruse only lasted until Smurthwaite was on the plinth because the organisers could hear her being interviewed.
“Once I was up there Goretti, the real Goretti, contacted the press in Northern Ireland about what I was doing and I did a live interview for BBC Radio 4 Ireland while I was up there.”
“I also took a toy horse along with me — since the statue on the plinth opposite the fourth plinth (the third plinth?) has a horse to sit on I figured I should blend in,” explained Smurthwaite, who is a stand up comic when she isn’t campaigning for abortion rights. “I explained several times to the cameras on the plinth about the campaign to extend the abortion act to Northern Ireland (and I had a huge banner which read “EXTEND THE ABORTION ACT TO N. IRELAND)”.
Smurthwaite explained the issue, saying: “I talked about the 40 women every week who come over from Northern Ireland to have an abortion and about how abortion services which are free for residents of England, Wales and Scotland cost Northern Irish women from £600 to £2,000. A lot of money to raise at short notice. Abortion is totally illegal in Northern Ireland — even in cases of rape, incest, abuse and health risks to the mother. It’s so wrong that women in certain parts of the UK should have fewer rights than others, that Northern Irish women should be treated as second class citizens. My partner David Mulholland handed out flyers explaining the message to those who had come to watch.”
The ruse took preparation. Smurthwaite said: “I’m really surprised we got away with it— I spent all week thinking someone would find me out and learning things like Goretti’s phone number, date of birth and address and running through my back-story so I could explain why I didn’t have an Irish accent.”
Smurthwaite added: “When I came down the team in the office seemed pretty annoyed with themselves for not spotting that I was a fake but it was all too late to do anything about it. I really hope it will generate publicity and help raise awareness for this really important cause.”
“So who am I really? I’m a stand-up comic and political campaigner,” Smurthwaite explained. “I met Goretti through my work with Abortion Rights — the UK-wide campaign for a woman’s right to choose on abortion. I also write a blog called Cruella-blog: www.cruellablog.blogspot.com. And if you want to come see me perform I also list upcoming shows on there — it would be great to have you along!”