Wednesday, 21 July 2010


What is the relationship between obscenity, eroticism and empowerment in the visual representation of childbirth?

Sketchbook drawing made in Khajuraho 2009 Madhya Pradesh, India.
Between January 2009 and April 2009 I traveled to India to make some drawings of the erotic temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and the yogini temples also found in that state.

Sketchbook drawing made in Khajuraho 2009 Madhya Pradesh, India.

My motivation for this was linked with the work which had emerged from the Birth Rites exhibition.
and has been consolidated in the Birth Rites Collection

The project allowed me to examine the effects of different representational mediums about childbirth on a diverse audience. It also inspired me to embark on a new body of artwork that explored sexuality and childbirth through drawing, artist books, wallpaper and printmaking.

Sketchbook drawing made in Khajuraho 2009 Madhya Pradesh, India.

I am looking to develop my understanding of Tantric thought in relation to creation.

Sketchbook drawing made in Khajuraho 2009 Madhya Pradesh, India.

For the show ‘Wall’s Are Talking,’ I produced two wallpapers.

In ‘Birth’ the figures are arranged in labouring postures found in manuals for active birth and from lap dancers' calling cards. This wallpaper alludes to the taboo that conceals the link between sex and birth and mixes the domestic with the erotic. The aim was to challenge the separation between women as mothers and women as sexual entities.

left 'Birth' wallpaper made by Helen Knowles and Francesca Granato 2008. Digital print.

wallpaper installed Whitworth Art Gallery.

‘Conception’ employs scientific illustrations of the male and female reproductive organs. From a distance both papers appear pretty and innocuous, on closer inspection an up- front exploration of sexuality and gender.

'Conception' hand screen printed wallpaper. 2010. Helen Knowles and Francesca Granato.

detail of 'Conception' hand screen printed wallpaper. 2010. Helen Knowles and Francesca Granato.

Building on this work, I am attending women in labour, documenting through observational drawing, the postures they adopt when giving birth.

Below are some of the drawings made during a birth. I am interested in the ambiguity of postures which could also be read as sexual positions. This is in direct relationship to the comments and reactions of the image reprinted for Birth Rites exhibition by Hermione Wiltshire of
'Terese crowning in ecstatic childbirth' taken form the book 'Ina May's Guide to Childbirth'. Pictured left.

Drawings made during a woman's labour. 2009. Charcoal on cartridge.

I want to establish a working-group of pregnant women who will use the images to explore and enhance their birth experiences, contributing a reflexive reading of new imagery. I intend to work with the women to create a drawing laboratory made in through the same process myself and Matt Cahill used to create the drawing laboratory in Gatley Primary school (see Drawing Lab blog).

I propose to examine the aesthetic in “which the birthing woman is resolutely the active subject and not the abject object of the birth scenes” . For Bataille, the taboo around childbirth is summed up by the blood loss and significant violence associated with it . This view exists, but has it eroded and defined women’s and men’s sense of self? Positive imagery of birth enables us to affirm and carry out our desire for a good birth experience. What sort of imagery, writing or textual analysis is it possible to create with this in mind? Hal Foster asked ‘can there be an evocation of the obscene that is not pornographic? ”

s a space for this in the representation of childbirth? When Hannah Arendt suggests, “the absence of birth from histories of thought represents a significant lacuna in political and
philosophical traditions”, it is
never so prevalent than within art. In the early stages of the BR project I contacted the director of a large gallery, the response, “it is not a very interesting subject”. In Kerstin Mey’s book ‘Art & Obscenity’ all topics from death, poverty to pornography feature and yet nowhere does she explore birth.

Charcoal drawing made of a woman during her labour 2009

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