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Beauty and the breast: Art exhibit celebrates nursing mothers • Brooklyn Paper

Beauty and the breast: Art exhibit celebrates nursing mothers

Mamma and child: Netherlands-based artist Geertje Geertsma’s piece from her series “Mammalia.”
Geertje Geertsma

This art is all natural!

Artists from all over the world will bust out their depictions of breastfeeding for “The Art of Breastfeeding: Modern Narratives of Motherhood,” an exhibit opening in a Gowanus gallery on March 10. The show’s co-curator said that, as an artist and a mother of three, she wanted to create a safe space to explore a beautiful, natural activity that is often banished from the public sphere, she said.

“This is something that’s sorely lacking in our everyday life as modern moms, very few representation of breastfeeding in a modern context,” said Leigh Pennebaker, who put together the show with MF Gallery’s director Martina Secondo Russo. “I’ve been breastfeeding for 11 years nonstop, I’m a passionate breastfeeding advocate and really engaged in the online community that is all about empowering breastfeeding women — we don’t have to put up with being harassed, told to stop, that kind of thing.”

The exhibit includes work from more than 24 artists, including performance artist Jess Dobkin, known for her piece “The Lactation Station,” which invited people to taste donated breast milk, visual artist Aimee Gilmore, who has created “milkscapes,” and cartoonist Lucy Knisley, who has an upcoming graphic novel about parenthood.

Not all of the paintings, photos, or sculptures glorify the act of nursing — some take a political stance, or discuss the troubles some women experience while trying to breastfeed, said Pennebaker.

“They’re not all this glowing celebration, some things depict that wonderful connection and joy and beauty, but others delve into ambivalence or ambiguity or struggles moms are confronted with,” she said.

Working woman: Artist Kasey Jones’s “Pumping in the Stalls” dramatizes some of the difficulties faced from by women who want to provide milk for their child while also returning to the workplace.
Kasey Jones

Mixing motherhood and femininity with art is no titillating new development, said Pennebaker — in fact, it has long been depicted in religious artwork.

“In art history there’s a plethora of images going back hundreds, thousands of years that celebrate the maternal and fertility goddesses and breastfeeding,” said Pennebaker. “It’s a really common thing, and a lot of religious art across all religious background, things like the Virgin Mary, kind of universal symbol of fertility and abundance.”

And the show — which will be open only by appointment after its March 10 opening — is not just for mothers or even just for women, said Pennebaker.

“We just hope a lot of people from the community come out, it’s very relevant to everyone, not just moms — but parents and grandparents, single people, it’s important to just see this happening,” she said.

A portion of the exhibit’s sales will go towards La Leche League, an international group that educates women about breastfeeding.

“The Art of Breastfeeding” at MF Gallery (213 Bond St. between Baltic and Butler streets in Gowanus). Opening receptoin March 10, 7–10 pm. By appointment through April 22. Free.

Comic art: New York City-based comic artist Tara McPherson’s piece for the March 10 “Breastfeeding in Art” show.
Tara McPherson

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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