Artist’s Statement

The Feed Me Project: On Breastfeeding and Motherhood

When I first began this show I envisioned it as a way to promote breastfeeding, based on my own positive experiences and beliefs about breastfeeding. However, I did not want to alienate those with different opinions, nor did I want to create propaganda art. I decided, with guidance from important mentors – fellow artists and mothers – to approach the project as a dialogue. Quickly I realized that all people have reasons for the choices they make regarding feeding, and the reasons behind those choices became the important and interesting thing. I began to question why we as a society have come to place such emphasis on infant feeding choices – breast or bottle? What is the deeper significance? What are we really talking about when we argue loudly over whether women can breastfeed in public, and where and how? What is going on when we condemn women for using a bottle to feed their baby and then admonish them for failing to be “discreet” when they breastfeed? Why do we as a society insist that women need to breastfeed, but fail to offer significant paid maternity leave so that they can do so successfully? Why do mothers feel “less than” if they stay at home with their children, and guilty if they work outside the home?

As I researched, the contradictions and ambiguities inherent in the topic of breastfeeding intrigued me. For some women breastfeeding is a way to reclaim their body for a meaningful purpose, one which has nothing to do with aesthetic or sexual desirability. For other women breastfeeding is a jail sentence.

Points of view on breastfeeding cannot be contained along familiar political, cultural, or religious lines? Conservatives and liberals embrace breastfeeding – for different reasons: conservatives because it symbolizes traditional motherhood and womanhood, and liberals because it symbolizes women reclaiming their own bodies for a non-sexual, empowering purpose. At the same time, and sometimes contradictorily, breastfeeding may represent defiance toward repressive attitudes about bodies, including toward sexuality and other basic animal instinct, and especially controlling attitudes toward female bodies and sexuality. Those who are more ambivalent, suspicious or hostile toward breastfeeding also have opposing reasons. Some feel that it keeps women chained to old-fashioned roles. Others feel that breastfeeding, especially in public, is simply lewd or inappropriate. Because breastfeeding advocacy does not line up along traditional cultural lines, it puts diverse groups of people together to support it, or to oppose it.

But for this show, my goal ultimately became seeing, and shedding light on, differing experiences and points of view. With empathy, I hope respect will follow  – respect for all women’s rights to make choices regarding their lives and their bodies.

As you view the works, artifacts, and statements I have created and gathered, keep in mind the following questions which I asked myself and other women, using social media, and “question boxes” placed around my home town: What are breasts for? Is breastfeeding sexual? (And for whom?) Is breastfeeding spiritual? Is breastfeeding empowering? What are the “hidden” – the cultural or emotional – reasons we make choices, as mothers and as families? – Amy Brand, March 1, 2015