‘Designing Motherhood’ delves into the material culture of birth at the MassArt Museum of Art

Joan E. Biren. Darquita with her daughter, 1990. Archival giclee print. Courtesy of the artist.
Marie Eiffe. Dress Flanges, 2019. Nylon and metal. Installation view. Photo: Constance Mensh.
Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor, 1983. Photo: Erik Gould. Image: Courtesy of Designing Motherhood.

Tie-waist skirt featured on the back cover of the Page Boy Fall/Winter 1952 catalog. Image: Courtesy Texas Fashion Collection, University of North Texas Libraries.

the MassArt Museum of Art (MAAM) announces its next exhibition, Designing motherhood: the things that make and break our birthson view from June 11 to December 18, 2022. Curated by a curatorial team of design historians, birth advocates, and experts in medical history and midwifery, Design motherhood explores the arc of human reproduction through the prism of design and art from the 19th century to the present day.

The exhibit of nearly 200 works includes historical and contemporary breast pumps, baby monitors, forceps and maternity wear, as well as vintage advertisements and contemporary art across media. The exhibition shows the evolution of societal rights and norms relating to conception, pregnancy, birth and postpartum experiences over the past 150 years, highlighting that birth – and the material culture that surrounds – has an impact on every living person. Design motherhood at the MassArt Art Museum will bring together, for the first time, the works of art and design exhibited in two previous locations and will integrate the works of five other contemporary artists – Joan E. Biren, Jess Dugan ’07, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ani Liu , and Tabitha Soren – who join a rich group of contemporary and historical artists and designers tackling topics and ideas related to the subject matter.

Our bodies, ourselves, second edition c. 1973. Photo: Erik Gould. Image: Courtesy of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Design motherhood is a perfect exhibit for MAAM,” said Lisa Tung, Executive Director of the MassArt Art Museum. “As the teaching museum of a leading art and design school, we are thrilled to be able to simultaneously present the history of design while showcasing the work of contemporary artists, addressing a subject that affects everyone but is not openly addressed.”

Aiming to interrogate traditionally gendered narratives of parenthood, as well as racial and socio-economic disparities in access to care, the exhibition centers experiences of (in)fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood. grouped into thematic sections such as Milk, Means of reproduction, Postpartum, temporary bodies and midwives. The exhibit features objects that monitor fertility and baby sleep cycles, birthing furniture and nasal aspirators, as well as the material culture surrounding our relationship to our own bodies, including conceptions of contraception, literature without children and a self-examination mirror. Works by contemporary artists and designers complement these conversations, including photographs by MassArt alum Jess T. Dugan that explore their experiences of queer parenting; the decorative straps of the breast pump by jeweler Maria Eife; cabinetmaker Alison Croney Moses’ sculpture of her pregnant belly; and Ani Liu’s installation of labor involved in the production of breast milk.

“This project examines one of life’s most fundamental experiences: birth. We started the Design motherhood project in 2017 to address the wide gap around this subject in the collections and classrooms where we work, as well as in culture more broadly,” explains the curatorial team. “Motherhood is not just a ‘women’s issue’. This exhibition is for everyone because we are all born and therefore all shaped by those things that “make and unmake our births”. We are so grateful to the MAAM team for hosting and supporting the project and we look forward to sharing it with the New England public.

The exhibit originated in Philadelphia at the Mütter Museum and the Center for Architecture and Design where the curatorial team partnered for three years with the pioneering Maternity Care Coalition, which has worked since 1980 to empower families to manage the reproductive health, pregnancy and early childhood in this city. In Boston, MAAM and the Designing Motherhood team are proud to partner with the Neighborhood Birth Center (NBC) as the key thought partner for this presentation, an organization whose mission is to provide midwifery care. complete community women by integrating an independent and autonomous birthing centre. in Boston’s health and community landscape.

Installation view of IUDs and intracervical devices from 1935 to 1982. Collection The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia. Photo: Constance Mensh.

the Design motherhood book, a 344-page volume published by MIT Press, accompanies the project. Major support for the entire project was originally provided to the Maternity Care Coalition by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia, with additional support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. A rich set of public programs is being planned, including links between exhibition content and the MassArt program.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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