Lack of Birth Art?

I skimmed an interesting article from the Guardian this morning that suggests that whereas art often depicts life events, childbirth has not been well-represented by artists.  I hadn’t really thought about that.  Women have been regularly depicted in art as domesticians, as sexual beings, as dancers, as objects of beauty.  What is not domestic, sexual, dance-like, or beautiful about childbirth?  Why is the image of a slim naked woman (commodified) so desirable in contrast to the burgeoning of life from a woman’s body (abjectified)?  What is not attractive about a body blooming from pregnancy?

I decided to look for [childbirth art] and ["childbirth art"] via Google and was surprised by the number of irrelevant hits.  A few things that piqued my interest included:

Childbirth in Renaissance Italy was encouraged, celebrated, and commemorated with a wide range of objects, from wooden trays and bowls and maiolica wares to paintings, sculpture, clothing, linens, and food. This groundbreaking book examines for the first time the appearance, meaning, and function of these childbirth objects. It also describes the social and cultural context in which they were created, purchased, and bestowed. In doing so, the book offers many insights into Renaissance daily life.Jacqueline Marie Musacchio draws on surviving works of art as well as contemporary and largely unpublished inventories, diaries, and letters, to illustrate the strong bond between the art and rituals of childbirth in Renaissance Italy. She describes a family-centered society seeking to rebuild itself in the wake of the catastrophic population decline wrought by the Black Death. Birth objects were symbols of fertility that encouraged pregnancy. But they were also rewards for procreation that congratulated the new mother. To demonstrate this, Musacchio investigates how objects were given, lent, bought, or commissioned as part of marriage and birth rituals, and how particular images and objects were regarded as aids to pregnancy and birth. For a variety of reasons, she concludes that childbirth objects served as necessary mediating devices between the real and ideal worlds.

In contrast, women who have suffered cesareans (not to suggest that all women who have had a cesarean feel like they suffered) have created some incredible artwork.  Click here to find related images.  I assume that cesarean art falls into the “abject” arena.  Furthermore, pregnancy and the birth process haven’t become mainstream depictions of the female body in art.  I hope more artists will be interested in changing that.

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9 responses to “Lack of Birth Art?

  1. I am doing research for a paper on this very subject and, go figure, I hit on this page. I think it a fascinating phenomenon and needs a lot more study and exposure. I can’t even find much writing on the topic. Thank goodness for Judy Chicago. If you are interested, there is a piece of work that I am writing a report on by a local artist called the Birthing Project. It is, in part, an homage to Judy Chicago’s Birth Project. Here is a link: http://www.womenshealthclinic.org/Public/Birth_Centre.html

    Also, I found a couple of paintings done by Marc Chagall that actually show a woman immediately after giving birth. The search continues!

  2. Check out these artists for more birth art…

    Mary Kelly – Post Partum Document
    Marc Chagall – Birth, Maternity
    Frida Kahlo – My Birth, Henry Ford Hospital
    Diana Thompson – Conceptions
    Diego Rivera, Ana Mendieta, Jenny Holzer, jil.p.weaving, Mirelle Astore

  3. I too am doing a dissertation on the subject (or lack of representation of it) and would be really interested in exchanging notes with anyone – my discussions also involve Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst & Ron Meuck and questioning why their work is so monumental and graphic (thoughts please!).

    I recently came across a group of likeminded artists who put a body of work together – check out their site http://www.birthrites.org.uk.

    • Ahh – I see that WAS the Guardian article you wrote about….!
      The point in question exactly, limited resources on the subject – ha ha!

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