This month, we are showcasing some selections from our first six months of stories. This story previously appeared here in ROAR.
Today’s story comes from We Testity, a program of the National Network of Abortion Funds dedicated to increasing the spectrum of abortion storytellers in the public sphere and shifting the way the media understands the context and complexity of accessing abortion care.
Evie Yapelli is a tattoo artist of Show Pigeon Tattoo in the Orange County. She donates a full amount of the tattoo cost to We Testify to each person who gets one of the organization’s design.
In this interview, Yapelli’s explains her connection to the organization and how she went from pro-choice to activist.
Abortion stories are as diverse and beautiful as the people who have them. So, when we started thinking about the design and branding of We Testify, we wanted something fresh, edgy, and that expressed the love and support we feel for people who’ve had abortions. To get this feel, we turned to Orange County-based tattoo artist Evie Yapelli of Show Pigeon Tattoo.
Yapelli’s artistry is rooted in the Traditional American tattoo style, with the added influences of vintage illustration and blackwork tattooing. She’s best known for her depictions of charming subject matter (think kewpies, early Disney characters, and Victorian imagery), often rendered in either all black or black with red or gold, creating an antique look. We reached out to Yapelli to tell her about our idea for We Testify and the icons we wanted to create and then let her visionary mind design. Love, compassion, and support shine through her designs, that now folks are getting tattooed on themselves!
To continue this movement of visible love for people who’ve had abortions, Yapelli is donating the full amount of the tattoo cost to We Testify for each person who gets one of the designs. Not in Orange County? That’s okay! She’s encouraging tattoo artists to join her in donating the profits of their tattoos, or for folks to go to their local tattoo artist, get one of the designs tattooed, and then make a donation. Just use #WeTestifyTattoos on social media.
It’s been a few months since Yapelli first designed the We Testify tattoos, so we decided to catch up with her. Read our interview below.
We Testify: What was your first reaction when we called and told you about We Testify?
Evie Yapelli: I was honored that you wanted my work to represent the project. I first met Yamani Hernandez [Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds] briefly many years ago, while I was working at a tattoo studio during my tattoo apprenticeship [in Chicago]. I ran into her again a few years later, and she told me that I had stood out to her as someone who was welcoming and kind. When she later reached out about We Testify, I was very flattered that she’d continued to follow my work, and that you all saw something special in it. And I felt very proud that my kindness had been meaningful to her, and led to something years later that I couldn’t have predicted.
I wasn’t familiar with your organization at the time, so I looked up the website to learn more about it. Right away, I saw that it was something I’d be proud to support. I’m a pro-choice feminist, and while I’ve never fully been an activist, I’d say I’ve always had activist leanings. I wasn’t totally sure what the project would entail, and I had no idea of its scope (which I later found was impressively far reaching!), but I was sure that I wanted to seize the chance to do something with my art that would support abortion access.
WT: What motivated you to not only support We Testify with your art, but through donations?
EY: First of all, I’d like to say that supporting We Testify with my art was particularly powerful for me. I struggled for a long time before I found my career, and part of the reason is that while I was always drawn to making art, I didn’t feel like it was a purposeful enough career. I come from a family with the kinds of careers that unquestionably help people – my mom just retired from a career as a special education teacher, my dad is a psychologist, and my extended family is full of doctors, lawyers, activists, and volunteers. It took some personal work to decide that it was okay to pursue a creative career simply because it was what I loved. I’ve used my artwork before to support other causes I believe in, mainly by donating paintings to art sales and auctions for various organizations. But it was new to me to be able to do something with my art that was purposeful at this scale. Like I said before, I didn’t realize the scope of the project when I started it. The first time I saw how you had put my work into context was when it was used on signs at the [Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt] Supreme Court rally earlier this year. I was speechless; I’d had no idea that it would be used in that context and I felt so moved and so proud. I thought to myself, if I never do anything great again with my work, I will die happy knowing that I was a part of this. It was a real gift.
On the morning of November 8th, We Testify tagged me on Twitter to point out a post from a woman who had gotten a tattoo of one of the images I’d created for the campaign. Renee Bracey Sherman [Senior Public Affairs Manager of the National Network Abortion Funds] and Yamani both mentioned that they’d been thinking about having one tattooed as well. I said I’d love to be the one to do it, and I started thinking that it would be meaningful to donate the amount back to We Testify. Then, I thought about the Taco or Beer Challenge that abortion funds started over the summer, and how cool it would be to do something similar with tattoos. Later that same day, we all found out the results of the presidential election. I was devastated along with millions of others. After a day or two had passed, a friend of mine reached out with the idea of planning an event in our community that would provide resources and raise donations. I felt better for the first time, suddenly hopeful and empowered. Then I remembered the idea I’d had about donating tattoo earnings from the We Testify images, and decided to act on that too. My hope is that it will reach further than I can. Obviously, I can only do so many tattoos, and only for people who are able to come to my studio. But the designs can be shared with tattooers everywhere. As part of the idea, I’m encouraging any interested tattooers to please use the designs and donate the profits. I’m also encouraging people not in my area who want one of the designs tattooed to please take the design to their local tattooer and then match the amount (or whatever amount they can!) in a donation to We Testify.
WT: How has working on this project changed how you think about people who have abortions?
EY: I’ve always been adamantly pro-choice, and I know and love people who’ve had abortions. That said, I must admit that there’s been a disconnect between that and a sort of prudish societal influence. The first few times that someone I knew told me they’d had an abortion, it felt like a scandalous secret. I believed that they had nothing to be ashamed of, and I wasn’t worried about them regretting it, but I think I was caught in that narrative of abortion being a controversial topic that isn’t polite to discuss. I was stuck in that notion that it’s always a really difficult decision and no one is proud of it, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.
Working on the project and learning more about the National Network of Abortion Funds has definitely changed that. I remember when I was drawing the image with the banner that reads “I had an abortion,” and I wondered if that was one of the images that was going to be used on a T-shirt. In that short moment I worked through my own bias, moving from feeling intimidated at the idea of someone wearing that T-shirt, to thinking it was brave, to thinking that it shouldn’t have to be brave, it should just be. As I continued to work on the project and then see it come to life, I came to understand that abortion is, as We Testify says, as complex and diverse as the people who have abortions.
WT: You deal with a lot of trolls on your Instagram account, and twirl on them haters hard! What keeps you motivated to stand up and speak out for people who have abortions?
EY: It’s really been the project itself that has shown me how to respond in those situations. I felt anxiety at first; a holdover from being a recovering people-pleaser who wants everyone to like her. But then I thought about the exact intention of We Testify, to put faces and diverse individual stories onto something that too many people see in a limited way. The people who respond negatively to the idea of the project are the very people who need to hear about it. So instead of ignoring or deleting their comments, I encourage them to visit wetestify.org and learn more about why the project exists and what it has to say. Overwhelmingly, though, the reactions are positive, and sharing that love with other people who believe in protecting abortion access makes it easy to keep speaking out.
If you want to get a We Testify tattoo, check out the Show Pigeon Tattoo website to learn more about the designs, how to get one yourself, and donate to We Testify. Be sure to follow Evie and Show Pigeon Tattoo on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!