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Motherhood, metaphor and milk

Inspired by the increasing movement of positive body image on social media, the work, “#loveyourlines,” is a painting accentuating stretch marks acquired during pregnancy with gold calligraphy ink.

Encased in resin like a semi-precious stone (a Baroque pearl, perhaps?) is a dollop of breast milk. It is meant to be worn as a pendant, a piece of ornament — a reminder of a mother’s bond with her child through the life-giving sustenance.

The piece, titled “Jewels,” is but one of the works of Fran Flaherty that explore milk’s material components and metaphorical resonances in her exhibit, “Post Erotica: The Anthropology of Motherhood.” The show, which the artist calls “an artistic scrapbook, a collection of moments, a visual diary of valuable experiences of being a mom,” premiered at 709 Gallery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and will be on view at Pineapple Lab (www.pineapplelab.ph) starting Feb. 10 as part of Fringe Manila’s series of multi-art events.

Another piece is a digital rendition of milk — in its rich, creamy coloration —printed on silk as two-dimensional work; a sculpture, 3D-printed no less, also exists. “I was looking for ways to portray breast milk in a high tech way,” Fran said. “After gathering data on breast milk, I ran the information on the computer and low and behold, it turned the breastmilk into these very strange but captivating organic-like images!”

The impetus to create this exhibit was inspired by a quote from Sarah Hardy, an anthropology professor at the University of California (Davis), who said: “The roots of our ability to cooperate with one another lay not in war-making as socio-biologists have long argued, but in the unique way that early modern humans reared their children.”

For Fran, the quote was her “aha” moment. “As a mother and an artist,” she said, “I was always trying to find a way to incorporate the two subjects (motherhood and art) and I wanted to create an exhibit that would anchor this thought.”

 

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It was important for the artist not to depersonalize breast milk from its source. Hence, part of the exhibition shows portraits of mothers, some of them shown breast-feeding, an act that has become so controversial in the States and elsewhere that people are now polarized between those who think that it should be done privately and those who think that it’s no shame to let a baby suckle as it pleases.

While conversant in the artistic modes of new media (Fran, after all, founded Carnegie Mellon’s Digital Arts Studio), she is also at home in traditional artistic techniques, such as free-hand calligraphy. “As an artist, I find traditional methods of making art are still relevant in conveying my ideas. I hope to inspire a sense of balance in old and new technology.”

Tapping into a largely autobiographical vein “to fully experience connection with my children and to explore the significance of the subtle acts of love and care in their lives,” Fran hopes that the show, on view until Feb. 24, “will rekindle memories of one’s relationship with their mother and explore the effects and influence of these moments in the course of their own lives.”

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