Sometimes art can be most exciting when it appears unexpectedly, such as it did to me yesterday at the Lowry Outlet Mall when I was invited into a temporary exhibition in an unused unit. Words to the effect of we've got an art exhibition and we need people to look at it so it looks like people are looking at it... we're second year midwifery students drew me in. How could they not?
Not being made by professional artists, or indeed by art students, the work struggled to communicate to me. The general message put forward fell into two catagories: being a nurse is hard word; and, this is what a pregnant woman looks like. Very little of the work captured well the aesthetic or life-giving beauty of the pregnant woman - however an image, of a pink pregnant torso frontally and in profile, by Danielle (surname missing from my notes) comes close. Two tiny images - one of a linea nigra, the other four simple paint-dabbed images of enlarged bellies and breasts – were perfect. Beautiful and expressive – I'm ashamed I didn't get the artist's name or photos of the miniature masterpieces.
My fiancee enjoyed Water Birth by Becca Marsh – a well constructed but deceptively peaceful image (again of breasts and belly) of what happens in the birthing pool. I say deceptively peaceful because none of the work in the exhibition attempted to communicate the pain, the blood, the shit, the tears and the tearing of the act of child birth. A large painting (I think also by Marsh) depicted a woman kneeling in a scream of paint and pushing. This came close to being about pain, but the bizarre addition of curled paper and feathers stuck on the woman's head silenced the art with silliness.
The struggle of the nurse and the midwife – and their day to day balancing act of responsibility, timekeeping, and human life – was depicted well by scrawled sketches on small scraps of paper, done as though stretched for time. I would have liked to have seen many more of these, exhibited close to each other. Ideally they would be made by nurses and students whilst working on the ward, dashing out a quick sketch in the heat of a single spare moment.
A photo collage on one wall explained with text some of the ideas behind the project, and contained some very interesting historical pictures of nurses and students on past wards. The project is a very interesting one, in the early stage of development, in need of expansion, focus and curation; but one that deserves all those things.
As well as a selection of images of pregnant bellies, I would love to see more work about the act of child birth, more about the day-to-day of midwifery, more technical information about pregnancy, and more photos from the vault. Also of interest to exhibit would be teaching materials – used for students, and to explain birth to expectant mothers – such as diagrams, scans, models, etc.
Although I see plenty of room for improvement, I fully support and respect the project, and it was absolutely the last thing I expected to see while visiting the Lowry Outlet Mall to see the new Harry Potter movie.
|all images (c) Salford University Art of Midwifery student project|