Phoenix photo exhibit ‘Sex and Sovereignty’ shares women's stories | Phoenix New Times
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Phoenix photo exhibit ‘Sex and Sovereignty’ shares women's stories

Amanda Mollindo's show at Eye Lounge can be seen on First Friday and through Dec. 10.
Mollindo's "Sex and Sovereignty" photography exhibition at Eye Lounge in downtown Phoenix.
Mollindo's "Sex and Sovereignty" photography exhibition at Eye Lounge in downtown Phoenix. Amanda Mollindo
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Amanda Mollindo began working on her photography exhibition, “Sex and Sovereignty,” in 2017 to depict the realities of reproductive healthcare for women nationwide. Developed over six years across multiple states, Mollindo’s passion project debuted at the Eye Lounge gallery in downtown Phoenix on Nov. 17.

The idea originated from a project she worked on in 2015 entitled “Young Mothers,” which centered around destigmatizing all pregnancy experiences, irrespective of age and spontaneity.

“I noticed many restrictive policies against abortion and hostilities that impacted sexual health, reproductive healthcare and rights. I decided to expand my project, creating a new one expanding on those ideas, so that’s why I started 'Sex and Sovereignty,' Mollindo says. She sought to portray how individuals access care, how providers deliver their care and how advocates band together to protect access to these services.

Mollindo began the project at 24. At that age, she knew she didn’t want to have children. She wanted her work to advocate for a woman’s right to choose despite the outcome and denote the societal expectations often associated with prime childbearing years.

After having a pregnancy scare at 18, Mollindo says that continuing a pregnancy isn’t always the ideal option.

“I had the knowledge that I needed to get Plan B immediately,” she says. “I knew how limited reproductive healthcare access was. I knew if Pan B didn’t work, I would have to figure out how to access abortion care. I knew that I would have to make those decisions of whether or not I wanted to ask my family for help or feel comfortable. I knew that if I wanted to pursue that, it would be a two- to three-hour drive and multiple days away from home.”

Mollindo began to realize that many other women shared similar experiences and that no one was talking about it, so she decided to change that. Putting a new spin on a traditional photo shoot, “Sex and Sovereignty” tells the sexual and reproductive health stories of 36 people who can become pregnant, healthcare providers and advocates.

“I had a tripod, and I had this large film camera. We would take two to six photos over the course of a couple of hours, and that was a really good way to slow things down and build the relationships with the people that I was working with,” she says. “We had a 30-minute conversation, whether it was over the phone or over the dinner table, talking about their experience.”

Along with her portfolio of photographs, Mollindo made videos for her participants, allowing them to share information at their comfort level. She says the storytelling process became very organic, filled with a variety of reproductive health stories.

“These videos are pretty straightforward. I would usually set up a video camera, and the participant would look straight into the camera or at me (I’d be pretty close by) and share their story. I didn’t want to leave too much of my own impression on their experience, so I usually didn’t come up with questions unless they really felt like they needed help to figure out what they wanted to say next,” Mollindo says.

“Sex and Sovereignty” is accompanied by Mollindo’s self-published book that includes portraits, transcripts of the conversations she had with her participants and a link to access her video footage. In the introduction of her book, she mentions connecting personal experiences to social conditions and says it’s something she strives to embody in all of her work.

“I think it all comes from a place of personal experience for me. I found that connecting with other people and building a network of personal experiences has allowed me to look back at the issues in a broader way and, more importantly, help my viewers look back in a broader way,” Mollindo says. “I think things have drastically changed over the last six years in a good way as far as storytelling and the way we think about storytelling in social movements and important health issues.”

Over the course of her project, Mollindo traveled to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Washington D.C. and her home state of Arizona. To comprehensively represent the stories of women who opened up about their experiences and build trust within communities she was unfamiliar with, she worked with local reproductive health and advocacy organizations with national connections. This included Planned Parenthood Arizona, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, Pro-Choice Arizona and The Abortion Fund of Arizona.

“From one state to the next, access to abortion and reproductive health care looks very different — financially, logistically and legally. I really wanted to make sure that I could go to other states to learn about people’s experiences,” she says. “In 2017, I feel like I was just learning about all of this stuff from research and numbers and not seeing faces and, most importantly, not seeing faces that look like mine as a Latina woman of color and not hearing voices in the reproductive rights and justice movements that reflected the statistics.”

Mollindo acknowledges the struggle of securing gallery support for projects characterized as controversial due to the stigmatization surrounding the topic of abortion. However, she found the support she needed to bring her project to fruition at Eye Lounge.

“I want my exhibition and the stories that I’ve been privileged to share to change the hearts and minds of people who are creating these bad policies for people. I know the reality is that I can tell (an endless amount of stories), and it still may not change the mind of someone who has the power to actually make impactful change, but I’m hopeful. If I didn’t believe that it would change a few minds or open a few people’s eyes to what the systems that have been built are actually doing to our bodies, I wouldn’t have pursued this project,” Mollindo says.

“Sex and Sovereignty” can be seen at Eye Lounge this First Friday, Dec. 1, from 6 to 9 p.m. Other gallery hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. The show continues through Dec. 10. Eye Lounge is located at 922 N. Fifth St. Visit the website for details.
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