The art of pregnancy, birth and beyond

From premature births, to breastfeeding, child bereavement and more - the issues surrounding pregnancy, birth and beyond are explored in a new exhibition running at St Peter’s, North Main Street, Cork city, writes Irene Halpin Long
The art of pregnancy, birth and beyond
Prof. Geraldine Boylan of the INFANT Centre, UCC pictured at the launch of CREATE exhibition, at St Peter's on North Main Street, until January 27. Picture; Clare Keogh

EACH pregnancy, birth and neonatal experience is unique. An exhibition celebrating this uniqueness is currently on display at St Peter’s, North Main Street.

CREATE: The art of Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond is an exhibition that spotlights pregnancy and new-born journeys, the people who make them, and the research that impacts them.

The exhibition is curated by the Health Research Board Mother and Baby Clinical Trial Network Ireland (HRB) and INFANT.

The HRB network brings leading Irish obstetric and related professionals and neonatal researchers together to address issues relating to women’s and children’s health. INFANT is a perinatal research centre based in Cork University Maternity Hospital and at University College Cork. It works to improve the treatment and care available to mothers and babies worldwide through research and clinical application, tackling problems that arise during and after pregnancy, when mother and baby are at their most vulnerable.

The exhibition was first displayed in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin and the National Science Gallery.

Speaking at the launch of the exhibition in Cork’s St Peter’s, Professor Geraldine Boylan, Director at INFANT, said: “INFANT is delighted to have the opportunity to host this exhibition in Cork and to showcase the exhibition to our local community. It is wonderful to see scientists and artists working together, to share knowledge and to create new ways of seeing and communicating research.”

The exhibition includes 13 pieces, ranging from photographs, sketches, videos and paintings by artists and researchers. The focal point is a collaborative piece called The Children’s Remembrance tree. In 2016, during a remembrance event held at Cavan and Monaghan Hospital, beads were used as a physical symbol of a baby or child that passed away and still remembered and loved by families. After the service, the beads were collected. Over a three-month period, the beads were sewn onto a piece of fabric by a local craft group.

Each bead represents the leaf of a tree and represent the fragility of life, the loss brought by childhood bereavement and the treasured memories that families hold of their child.

Artist, musician and mother of three, Yonit Kosovske’s photographs of a home birth are displayed at the exhibition. Her series of photographs are called Born Knowing. Yonit says: “I tried to capture various emotional states and mindsets that play an important role in the birth process; joy, tranquillity, patience, love, intimacy, trust.”

Artist, marketing professional and mother of two, Judy Mullane’s piece is called Baby Amyazing — A Micro Premmie and her Journey through NICU. Judy’s daughter, Amy was born 15 weeks early and weighed 890g at birth. The piece depicts Amy, aged one week old, alongside Amy’s Beads of Courage. There are 412 beads in the chain.

Judy explains: “Each bead on the chain represents Amy’s incredible NICU journey. Amy spent 143 days in hospital. The beads represent her fight and capture the bumpy days and, also, her special moments — her baptism, our first cuddle, her first breast feed.”

Artist, designer and mother of two, Fiona Carey, presents a series of illustrations entitled Everyday Breastfeeding which depict everyday experiences of breastfeeding. Fiona says: “My piece was inspired by a frustration I felt with the lack of real images of breastfeeding. My work presents the lovely, chaotic, precious, mundane, everyday reality of breastfeeding.”

Deirdre Scully’s video, entitled, Boy Meets Girl, aims to promote a better understanding of the process of fertilisation. Deirdre is an anatomist and is currently working on her PhD in bovine infertility. She says: “The piece was designed to highlight the parallels that exist between the events leading up to fertilisation of an egg by a sperm cell and the competition for a mate that likely preceded them.”

Jessica O’Brien from St Peter’s Cork hopes that parent and breastfeeding groups, in particular, will visit the exhibition.

“We would love to welcome parenting and breastfeeding groups to visit the exhibition. It would be lovely to see mums with their babies here at St Peter’s where they can enjoy the beautiful pieces of art displayed as part of the CREATE exhibition and sit and have a coffee afterwards.”

Fiona adds: “We need to have more nuanced discussions about pregnancy, childbirth, baby-feeding and parenting. At the moment, we’re seeing polarised discussions that attempt to pit parents, especially mothers, against each other in order to gain clicks on websites, which results in conversations and interactions coming from a place of defensiveness instead of openness and willingness to understand.

“I’d like to see the conversation evolve to the point where we are actually listening to each other and asking, ‘How can I help? What can I do to make your life easier?’”

Yonit is excited that the photographs she took at a home birth are part of the exhibition. She says: “I hope this exhibition generates more respectful discussion about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. I think the one thing that all parents have in common is that we want to make safe and informed choices.

“I want this exhibition to be thought-provoking and help to create a safe environment, where people can respectfully comment, ask questions, share stories, and listen compassionately to one another without judgement.”

Deirdre says: “Conception, pregnancy and birth are supported by extraordinary scientific processes, which can often be overlooked. The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the science behind reproduction in a fun and engaging environment.”

The exhibition runs until January 27.

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