Michele Hartney

Chicago, USA – Textile

Anarcha, 2014

grosgrain ribbon, metallic embroidery floss, velvet and vintage obstetrics book

101.5w x 40.64H x 7.70cm (The Piece comes framed, 112 x51x7.70cm)


Michelle’s work explores social and political issues through textile, embroidery, installation, video, and performance. She utilise these materials to examine women’s health issues, rape culture, and politics, often inviting viewer interaction through performance and the Internet.

Dr. J. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology,” experimented on female slaves, without providing anesthesia, to find a cure for the vesico-vaginal fistula. Seventeen-year old Anarcha, who had just given birth for the first time, was separated from her infant, trapped in Sims’ care, and operated on thirty times. The medical community has celebrated Sims for 170 years, yet most books fail to mention the torture he forced upon black women. Generations of medical students were taught that Sims was a hero and did not learn of his torturous acts, while white doctors continued to experiment on black men and women.

Each embroidered piece in ‘Anarcha’ is paired with a vintage obstetrics textbook that has been corrected with an attached footnote containing the truth. An accompanying viewer activated internet performance piece, Correcting History, is a call to action to amend library books with a downloadable bookmark provided on Hartney’s website that contains the truth about Sims’ experimentation on slaves. This includes a database constructed of 2,540 books, including thirteen different titles, with the location of libraries in all fifty states that contain the books in need of the truth.

Birth Words

a series of fabric works on canvas that show abusive things doctors said to their patients during childbirth.

I Don’t Need Her Permission, 2014

archival inkjet print

50 x 25 cm


If You Would Have Been A Good Girl And Gotten An Epidural I Would Have Spared Your Dignity, 2014

archival inkjet print

50 x 25 cm


Mother’s rights

In 2013, eight countries reported an increase in maternal mortality rates. This list included countries such as war-torn Afghanistan, and the United States, which was the only developed country on the list. The United States spends three times more money on childbirth than Great Britain, yet our maternal mortality rate is over three times higher.

Along with local midwives, doulas, and volunteers, we sewed 1,200 hospital gowns, one for every mother who died in childbirth in America in 2013. The fabric was silk-screened to look like hospital gown fabric, composed of tiny drawings created of the plant derivatives of the drugs that have been used on labouring women for the past 150 years.

For the performance, several pairs of women stood facing each other folding the gowns into triangles; similar to the way the American flag is folded at the funeral of a solider. The traditional flag folding ceremony includes twelve symbolic folds, with the ninth fold symbolizing womanhood. These hospital gowns have been cut to a length that allows the fabric to stop on the ninth fold. The folded gowns represent not only the 1,200 women who died during childbirth in the United States in 2013, but also the women who have suffered abuse at the hands of obstetricians and nurses, and for the increasing number of women who are being diagnosed with postpartum PTSD after giving birth.

The current iteration of the Mother’s Right performance includes adhering a patch onto the gowns that represent the number of black and brown women who died during childbirth compared to caucasian women.


Artist’s Bio

Michelle Hartney (b. 1978, Chicago) graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a masters in art therapy. Her work addresses a broad range of topics, from women’s rights, maternal healthcare issues, and sexism in the art world. Her practice includes utilizing fiber, wood, found objects, installation, guerilla protests in museums, community based interactive performance, and the internet. In 2016 Hartney founded the Women’s Health Collective, an artist collective dedicated to utilizing creative approaches to raise awareness about women’s health issues by linking artists, designers, writers, musicians, healthcare providers, and activists to work collaboratively on socially engaged, community based projects.