Over the River
Returning Your Gaze
Here are some paintings:
This project is a series of images of women casually giving birth in public, social, and leisure situations. The birth-giver is aware but not overly concerned with the birth. There is no sense of danger or urgency in these births; there is neither shock, repulsion, nor celebration.
The idea came to me suddenly, and at first as comedy. However, the longer I spent with the project, the more layers of meaning I found and the more questions I had both in regards to my personal relationship to motherhood and society’s relationship to motherhood, as well as the representation of motherhood.
My own response to friends and acquaintances who have over the past few years become mothers, has been a mix of sentimental swooning and heartless rejection. I feared that this new role would irrevocably turn my friends into people I no longer knew, instantly transform them into a drones who could only think and talk about babies. This of course proved not to be true, and a rather insulting preconception.
I think that one can learn the most about oneself by investigating the things that are both attractive and repulsive. Many women, including myself, feel this way about birth and motherhood. While I sometimes secretly imagine that I will one day have children, I decline to imagine any particular sacrifices I might make, any shift in identity I may assume, or any friends who could reject me or grow apart.
I chose to work with birth itself because this is a transformative moment of motherhood in which the self becomes the other. Who should participate in and control birth? What are our expectations of mothers? What are mothers’ expectations of themselves? How does our view of a woman as a subject change when she becomes a mother?
By taking a socially private and medicalized event and taking it to the other extreme, these images are meant to be jarring, challenging, grotesque, and funny. Their aim is not to suggest that birth should take place at a cocktail party, but rather use the absurd to bring into focus and question our cultural perceptions of birth and motherhood, and acknowledge our ever-remaining closeness to biology and natural cycles, despite our changing lives and built surroundings.
While much energy has been exerted to call out the sexual objectification of women and girls, the quieter, more obscured objectification of mothers is an equally strong piece of the puzzle that defines women in relation to an other, rather allowing us full personhood.
I am excited to present this work which has taken me almost two years to research and complete. These questions however, are ongoing. Presenting birth and motherhood in a critical way that neither parades it as an ultimate goal, nor diminishes its importance has allowed me to reexamine my assumptions, and clear the ground to re-imagine what it could be.