In 2022, Roopa Vasudevan felt a change. The Supreme Court rejected the decision Roe v. Wade, and he immediately thought of Branches Across America, a project he created anonymously in 2012. The website had collected thousands of testimonials in support of contraceptive access, but was now dead with outdated code. Frustrated and determined, Vasudevan reprogrammed and revived it.
“In Dobbs The decision … is what lit a fire under me,” says Vasudevan, a West Philadelphia-based digital media artist and computer programmer currently pursuing his Ph.D. at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication.
“Sluts Across America” was a platform where people wrote and read anonymous responses to the query “I’m a slut because…”. Records were tagged by location and placed on a world map.
In just two months, it has received almost 9,000 entries from the US and abroad. The site’s “About” section says, “If protecting ourselves makes us whores, then it’s time to learn what ‘whores’ really means.” The unforgettable name stems from Rush Limbaugh’s fiery screed against birth control advocate Sandra Fluke after testifying in Congress; called him “shahib”. “The whole conversation read like a no-brainer that we appreciated people who are actually taking a real proactive step in taking care of their reproductive health,” Vasudevan said.
She created this website because she wanted to know “if people are willing to identify as whores or if people are willing to exist in solidarity with each other. It started as an experiment in collective storytelling. [to illustrate] the variety of reasons people asked for access to birth control,” she said.
“I like sex, but not children.”
“I’m in charge of my future, not old white Christian men.”
“I support my right to control my body, my motherhood and my endometriosis.”
“Sex is an important part of my life and I will pursue the pleasure of the experience without shame. And without children, I couldn’t hope to adequately provide for myself, financially or otherwise.”
Contributors talked about not being ready to have a baby and how birth control can regulate period cramps. They wrote about sexual freedom, medical necessity and the principle of self-choice. “It was really surprising to see how many of these contributions overlapped,” says Vasudevan. A symbol of a silhouette of a naked woman – a cheeky design choice – marked the location of each entry and covered the map across the US, Europe and elsewhere, with comments from people as far away as New Zealand, South Africa and Japan.
After that, Vasudevan, a master’s student at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York, remained anonymous. “I was worried about the right offense [and] people follow me or level threats,” he says. He still worries about trolls, but says, “it’s gotten a lot of traction, it’s been written about in books… Now I feel more attached to it as an artist… for all the work I’ve done over the years. I have done 10 years to appreciate myself. ago.”
This is the first time that he has presented himself as an artist in a major publication.
Vasudevan has been active in the city’s art scene, with shows at Vox Populi, an artist-run space in Callowhill, and Automat, located in the Crane Arts building. His work explores the ways humans interact with technology and asks how we unconsciously adopt default behaviors, such as Apple’s latest redesign.
Vasudevan considers Sluts Across America to be one of his first successful art projects. “I really see myself as an artist who uses the internet to foster solidarity and connection between people, which has been a recurring theme in my practice.”
It is the hope of solidarity that underlines his motivation to bring the project back in 2023. If an abortion seeker in Missouri is feeling particularly isolated, they may find comfort in hearing perspectives from their neighbors that affirm the decision. Vasudevan hopes people will continue to contribute and use the page as a resource.
Roe v. Wade He would have turned 50 this month. Ten years ago, it would have been hard to believe that the Supreme Court would go against established precedent. “In 2012, we took the right to an abortion for granted, right? We’ve taken the right to contraception for granted,” says Vasudevan. “It’s even more urgent to see something like this. [”Sluts Across America”] by understanding it [reproductive rights are] not as much as we want to believe they are… We need to really come together as a group and show support for access to reproductive freedom.”
Roopa Vasudevan’s “Slow Response I (Paintings), 2021-2022” will be on display at the Annenberg School for Communication (3620 St.), 5th floor, through May 2023.