Breaking taboos about birth

Helen Knowles, "Birth with Orgasm" (image courtesy of the artist and GV Art gallery)

Helen Knowles, “Birth with Orgasm” (image courtesy of the artist and GV Art gallery)

Hyper-real images that question cultural attitudes towards women and childbirth form part of a new exhibition opening today.

The show at the GV Art gallery by Helen Knowles, Private View: Public Birth, features both figurative and abstract images of women “in the transcendental state of birth”; Knowles founded the Birth Rites Collection in 2008, the first collection of contemporary art dedicated to the subject.

Knowles has used screen grabs from YouTube videos to show women at the crowning stage of birth, when the baby’s head beings to emerge. By using footage from social media platforms – films usually reserved for private viewing – Knowles hopes to question the discomfort some audiences have with certain images.

The Birthing of Azheyo Aeoro (Image courtesy of artist and GV Art)

The Birthing of Azheyo Aeoro (Image courtesy of artist and GV Art)

The concept is a refreshing and thought-provoking one. Most public perceptions of new mothers involve images of immaculately groomed famous women whose bodies magically snap back into place and while “beautiful” is a word often used to describe babies, it’s rarely associated with birth itself (and certainly not linked to images of the birth process).

Yet the pieces of work on display in today’s exhibition are intriguing and often ethereal, reflecting notions of female strength.

Knowles has also recently been researching Native American and British contemporary perspectives on public birth. The Birth Rites Collection itself is on permanent public display in the midwifery department, University of Salford and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London.

* Private View: Public Birth, a curatorial collaboration between Poppy Bowers and Helen Knowles, runs from 16-22 September at the
 GV Art gallery, Marylebone, London.

About Saba Salman

Saba Salman is a social affairs journalist and commissioning editor who writes regularly for The Guardian. Saba is a trustee of the charity Sibs, which supports siblings of disabled children and adults, and an RSA fellow. She is a former Evening Standard local government and social affairs correspondent.
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