PHOENIX — On a billboard that looms over the Grand Avenue arts district, artist Karen Fiorito has installed artworks decrying abortion bans and obstructionist politicians. One side of the billboard features the five conservative Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the other highlights 11 politicians who’ve opposed legislation aimed at improving education, health care, voting rights, and more.
Located at 1024 Grand Avenue, in a creative hub known for historic preservation efforts and funky offerings from art hung in trees to annual exhibitions of mutant piñatas, the work is well-timed given recent developments in Arizona. On September 23, a federal judge ruled that an abortion ban first passed by the state’s territorial legislature in 1864 has to be enforced. The ruling came just one day before a 15-week abortion ban signed by Governor Doug Ducey was scheduled to take effect. Now, abortion is banned in Arizona “unless it is necessary to save [the mother’s] life.”
“These people don’t care if women will die,” Fiorito told Hyperallergic. “I can’t believe they’re actually taking this country backwards.”
Fiorito is based in California, where she started working on concepts for her pro-choice billboard after a draft Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press in early May, training her eye on the religious underpinnings of the decision. “We’re not a Christian nation,” said Fiorito, who calls the piece “Separate the Church and State” (2022). “They’re trying to do the same thing as the Taliban, controlling women’s bodies through religion.” It’s a sentiment echoed on the billboard, near the word “VOTE” written in bold red text. With her artwork, Fiorino may be calling out the hypocrisy of conservative politicians who denounce the Taliban’s repression of women in Afghanistan while crafting policies that show the same disregard for women’s rights in the US.
The artwork actually went up in early June, before the landmark legislation was overturned on June 24. Fiorito’s “The Obstructionists” (2022), which pictures legislators including Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz, was installed at the same time.
The billboard is owned by Phoenix artist Beatrice Moore, who first installed one of Fiorito’s designs in 2004. At the time, Fiorito chose George W. Bush’s declaration of war in Afghanistan as her subject matter. More recently, she’s concentrated her efforts on Donald Trump, using imagery including dollar signs resembling swastikas and Trump wearing an orange jumpsuit behind prison bars. Fiorito says her first Trump design led to death threats, adding that the current imagery hasn’t garnered much controversy. “I got a little blowback on social media right after it went up, but people always make snarky comments,” Fiorito explained.
“This one really hasn’t received much response as far as I can see,” said Peter Deise, an artist whose studio sits beneath the billboard. “Speaking for myself and a whole lot of others down here, I think we’re just bored with the negativity.” The street gets a relatively steady flow of light traffic, so people are certainly seeing the work. But it’s possible they share the view of one of several artists Hyperallergic spoke with about the billboards, who said he’s trained himself not to look up at the billboard after getting so tired of seeing Trump’s face in the space in the past.
But Moore says she’ll continue to use the Grand Avenue Billboard Project to give artists a way to express their political views. “There aren’t a lot of places where artists can do that,” said Moore.
She’s planning to keep Fiorito’s work on view through the midterm elections in November 2022, but says it’s possible they’ll switch out or modify the designs. Fiorito already has plenty of ideas, including coat hanger imagery that leans more heavily into the fight for abortion rights and incorporates the Trump motto “Make America Great Again.”
Whatever design they choose, Fiorito expects to relay a strong pro-voting message. “These decisions about abortion,” she said, “just prove how absolutely important it is to vote in every election.”