‘Nine Months’: Motherhood as Muse

Published July 21, 1994 by Nancy Stapen

Summer is the slowest time of the year in the galleries. One word that comes to mind is “barren”. Not at Howard Yezerski’s, though, where a show called “Nine Months: Art and Pregnancy” presents an unusual fertile offering.

Eleven artists from Boston, New York and Los Angeles take diverse approaches to the subject. Media range from the traditional painting, drawing, photography and printmaking to mixed-media construction and sewn objects.

An issue that surfaces repeatedly is the culture’s conflicting attitudes towards pregnancy. Artists here explore the contradictions between the glorified pedestal pregnant women may be placed on, the desexualization of the mother and the sense of the maternal body as communal property – as in those oft-told recitations of pregnant women about the way that complete strangers will approach with advise, even going so far as to touch their stomachs….

Boston artist Ilana Manolson created visual “diaries” during and immediately after her two pregnancies. She represents each day with a small plastic bag filled or adorned with symbolic objects and text. Displayed in a grid, these “excerpts” range from stones arranged like a fertility goddess (apparently not too sublime for Manolson; it’s accompanied by the text: “That awkward stage. No one knows I’m pregnant and my breasts are already twice the size.”), to crossed red and purple gloves each holding an egg, marked with the words “delicate juggle.” All harried new mothers, as well as some new dads, will identify with such postpartum highs of self care as Manolson’s drawing of a shower faucet with the words “It’s a great day – got to dental floss, shower and cut my nails.”

The grid is frequently used motif, perhaps reflecting the search for order in the chaotic world of new motherhood….

The show also includes works by Emily Cheng, Ana Maria Hernando and Aida Laleian. Karl Lundeberg is the only male in the show – a limitation which, according to Yezerski, “created a lot of indignation among male artists, who felt ‘We get pregnant too’”. Organizers Tom Grabosky’s and Natasha Otero-Santiago’s decision to restrict themselves to women artists follows in the tradition of such artists as Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot and Julia Margeret Cameron, who, long before Demi Moore was a glint in Tina Brown’s eye, pioneered the female interpretation of the mother-child relationship.