The truth of a Yale art student’s claim that she artificially inseminated herself, induced miscarriages, and filmed the process for exhibition has been called into doubt. A spokesperson for the university characterized story as “performance art,” insisting there had been no self-impregnations and self-induced abortions.
The art student denied the university’s claim the story was an artistic hoax, saying the university was distancing itself from her project because of a “media frenzy.” However, the student admitted she was not sure whether she was ever pregnant when she supposedly attempted to induce the miscarriages.
Thursday news reports about art student Aliza Shvarts caused a storm of news coverage and commentary. Shvarts claimed the exhibit would "spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body," telling the Yale Daily News that she was not ashamed of the exhibition and had become “increasingly comfortable” discussing her induced miscarriages in everyday conversation.
Helaine Klasky, a Yale University spokesperson, said in a Thursday statement that Shvarts is “engaged in performance art.”
“Her art project includes visual representations, a press release and other narrative materials. She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages.”
“The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman's body. She is an artist and has the right to express herself through performance art.”
“Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns."
Kristan Hawkins, director of Students for Life America, responded to Klasky’s statement:
“I am appalled that Yale University would allow a student to use the tragedy of miscarriage and abortion as a practical joke and then call it 'art.' If a male art student would have released that he planned to exhibit condoms he used to rape multiple women in an effort to produce shock, the American people and pro-choice feminist groups across the country would have demanded that the student apologize for his grotesque behavior and be severely reprimanded or expelled from school.”
Hawkins continued, saying, “Falsely announcing that one has taken several lives is unethical, and this girl has inflicted serious harm to the women of this country who have experienced the pain of miscarriage.”
According to the Yale Daily News, in a late Thursday interview Shvarts insisted her exhibit was not a hoax. She shared with reporters video she claimed depicted her self-induced attempts at miscarriage.
“No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen.” Shvarts said. She added that she does not know whether she was ever pregnant. “The nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties,” she said.
In a statement issued just before midnight on Thursday, Yale spokeswoman Klasky said that Shvarts had promised that if the university revealed her alleged admission that her exhibit was merely a performance, she would deny the claim.
“Her denial is part of her performance,” Klasky wrote in an e-mail. “We are disappointed that she would deliberately lie to the press in the name of art.”
On Friday morning, Shvarts insisted the exhibit was not a hoax and claimed she had proceeded with the backing of university faculty. Shvarts said faculty supportive of her work included the dean of her residential college and at least two faculty members in the School of Art.
“I’m not going to absolve them by saying it was some sort of hoax when it wasn’t,” she said. “I started out with the University on board with what I was doing, and because of the media frenzy they’ve been trying to dissociate with me. Ultimately I want to get back to a point where they renew their support because ultimately this was something they supported.”
According to Shvarts, she planned in her exhibit to suspend from the gallery’s ceiling a large cube wrapped with hundreds of feet with plastic sheeting. The plastic sheeting, she claimed, would be lined with the blood from her self-induced miscarriages.
Shvarts claimed she planned to project on four sides of the cube the recorded video of herself during the miscarriages. She showed to Yale Daily News reporters elements she said were part of her planned exhibit, including footage of the alleged miscarriage attempts.