Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Katherine Hauser


Included in my exhibition Birthing Bodies (September 30 – December 30, 2017) at the Tang Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College was Stan Brakhage’s film Window Water Baby Moving (1959) which shows Brakhage’s ex-wife Jane giving birth to their daughter. I placed a small notebook in front of the monitor to gather responses on the film and on the exhibition, and amidst many affirming comments is one revealing and representative one: “very disgusting.” Another time, while walking out of the gallery, I heard a man exiting behind me say to another man walking into the gallery: “Don’t go – fucking terrifying.” These comments represent the cultural attitude towards birth that provided the impetus for Birthing Bodies in the first place: birth, what comes before and after it, and the bodies and subjects that enact it, have been and continue to be constructed as repulsive and fearful. In this climate, portrayals of the pregnant, birthing, and postpartum body are few and far between. Many women wrote in that response book that the film brought them viscerally back to the births of their own children, but that they had never before seen a birth. I created Birthing Bodies because I knew that representing the pregnant and birthing body as a site of power countered a dominant and damaging narrative of birth. To expand beyond the limitations of creating an exhibition within the Tang’s collection, I created a theoretical exhibition and accompanying essay, throughout which I continue to ask why this subject — universal, foundational, necessary for our existence as a species — is untouchable, in art, academia, politics and popular culture. Despite feminist progress in the art world, few artists address the female body’s reproductive capabilities, even fewer address birth. The only other exhibition I have found that addresses birth is an upcoming exhibition at the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery in St. Paul, Minnesota which revisists Judy Chicago's Birth Project (1980-85). Both the exhibition Birthing Bodies and this theoretical exhibition and essay aim to begin filling in the gap in the general public’s visual lexicon,reclaiming the pregnant, birthing, and postpartum body as sites of agency and power, and making visible the structures that have constructed those bodies as faulty, frightful, and offensive.