This is a photograph of an art exhibition, “Postpartum Document,” by Mary Kelly. It is a collection of feeding charts, diaper stains, records of words her son said and bits of reflection leading up until her son could finally scribble across her documents. Here is a link to Tate Museum’s write up on the art: http://bit.ly/1BP9BQ1
At first, I didn’t like the art- I thought it was a cold and impersonal “portrait,” of motherhood. But then, I watched an interview by Kelly that changed my mind- she explained she didn’t want to provide a figure or portrait in the traditional sense- she wanted to show a more analytical demonstration of the output of the work of Mothering.
Her discussion of the post-partum document begins about 5 minutes in.
It reminded me of how someone gave me one of those Itzbeen timers as a gift- the little things that keep track of diaper changes, how long a baby’s slept, how long its been since they were fed, etc. I remember thinking it was a completely ridiculous device. Then, after I had my first child, I was completely tied to that thing- I couldn’t ever remember which breast I’d nursed from last without it, and in my sleep-deprived state I relied on that timer to help me keep track of everything. I thought of Kelly’s work in a new way.
What do you think? Do you like this alternative “portrait” of motherhood? Did you keep track of feedings, words, schedules, etc?
According to Amy Mullen, author of Reconceiving Pregnancy and Childcare: Ethics, Experience, and Reproductive Labor, this painting represents the woman cut away to reveal her primarily as a “mere container,” of the (fully developed, male) child within her. She goes on to suggest that the animals in the background are suggestive of what the mother’s role and purpose should be, and she argues that this painting is part of a tradition that thought of pregnancy as a solely a physical event, and ignored other aspects of pregnancy, such as emotional or spiritual elements.
I’m curious- when you were pregnant, did you feel like a “mere container,” at times? What is the importance and significance of the emotional and spiritual sides of pregnancy?
I cannot count the number of times I’ve helped my children wash their hands. Now they are old enough at home to use a little step stool and can be (mostly) trusted to perform this simple task themselves. But sometimes, when we are out in public, there is no stepstool and I must pick them up and bend their bodies over public sinks and squeeze the soap into their chubby hands. I think about washing and caring and teaching and how these moments lead to independence.
When I saw this painting, I was immediately transported to the many hours spent rocking my own children. I would swaddle them and rock them back and forth until they feel asleep, then gingerly lay them in their cribs. I don’t remember what I thought about during those many hours. I remember feeling foggy and achy with tiredness. I remember pressing my cheek against their chick fuzz hair and how warm they felt in my arms. I remember how it felt impossible that something so small could make my arms feel so very full.
Hello, and welcome to my blog, The Art of Motherhood.
I am creating this blog for a graduate course on feminist research methods. We assume that art is research, and we emphasize investigating and practicing autobiographical and autoethnographic skills in our research.
The purpose of this blog aid in developing a critical perspective regarding the arts, gender, and culture, especially in regard to motherhood. I also want to encourage others to tell their stories as they relate to the motherhood and art, and to explore the meaning of the images we see surrounding the idea of motherhood and what these images mean to us personally.
In each post, I will post a piece of art that depicts mothers or motherhood in some way. I will provide some background regarding the work of art, and then provide a personal response to the piece. I encourage others to do the same; please leave your own responses in the comment section, or, if your response is longer, please feel free to write your story down and e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will post your story and any piece of accompanying art on the blog.
Thank you for coming and for exploring the idea of motherhood through art with me!