Catherine McCormack, academic and expert in the field of maternal themes in art, curates a two-part exhibition exploring maternal experience and subjectivity at Richard Saltoun Gallery, London. The first exhibition explores the idea of ‘matrescence,’ a term developed byanthropologist Dana Raphael in 1973 in an attempt to theorise the transitional period of shifting the body and psyche in the process of becoming a mother, one that is never fully resolved.

The curatorial themes for this show stem from a radical rethinking of the eponymous archetype of the silent, suffering and idealised mother as represented in Christian iconography as the Virgin Mother and child Jesus.

This is continued in the theme of maternity/obscenity, which explores how images made around the subject of childbirth are heavily policed and censored, and how the maternal body in this powerful moment is very often eclipsed and erased or thought to be obscene, monstrous, even pornographic.

The remaining themes in the first show probe the territory of loss, obsolescence and negation of ‘mothering,’ whether through abortion or maternal death and obstetric violence, both areas that have come under increased political scrutiny.

The exhibition also draws attention to the notion of the public and private reproductive body, with work that asks questions about the state versus the individual’s right to decide on contested practices such as abortion or access to fertility treatments and the visibility of pregnant mothers in the public arena.

blackqube magazine featuring maternality at richard saltoun galleryThe second exhibition exploring themes of maternal experience, ‘Maternality,’ reflects on the etymological root of the word mother and its close relationship with material matter, the very substance from which the universe is created (in Latin mater/materia).

The maternal body itself has been a productive medium for artists to mine for its literal ability to reproduce and replicate and for the folds, internal spaces and fluids it produces. ‘Maternality’ features work that draws on the material and bodily processes of mothering, as well as the way in which the threshold of birth is envisaged as something that has tended to focus on the baby to the denial and neglect of the maternal body.

The exhibition will also feature video work by women artists who question the technological relationships that look to govern and analyse the body’s cycles of fertility and reproduction, from apps that monitor fertility to the voices of the web that police and influence maternal behaviours. The show also looks at how art concerning maternal themes can disrupt social norms governed by capitalist patriarchal culture by considering work made through the lens of the politics of childcare or migration.

Images: Kirsten Justensen „Circumstances / Omstaendigheder“, 1973, Archival pigment print, 29 × 42 cm, courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery // Liv Pennington, „
Private view“, 2006, Digital print, 80 x 76 cm, Edition of 3, courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery