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Restoring the Art of Breastfeeding

Miriel Smith's avatar Miriel Smith

With this series I intend to educate, inspire, empower, challenge social norms and most of all normalize breastfeeding. I have attached a cloth or “nursing cover” over part of each painting to hide the act of breastfeeding. The cloth is designed to be removable. I encourage onlookers to look under each cloth to reveal different nursing situations. On the cloth there is a brief description explaining information or obstacles about that specific nursing relationship. These paintings showcase many different nursing relationships; some of which exist outside of people’s perception of what “normal” breastfeeding looks like. With these examples I intend to prove the point that the most important reason breastfeeding needs to be re-normalized is so that mothers know how to feed a baby long before the moment that they become a mother. Many mothers struggle to breastfeed and are often forced to give up their breastfeeding relationship as a result. I believe witnessing breastfeeding is often necessary in order to achieve breastfeeding success. As artprize continues I plan to permanently remove a cloth every day to symbolize the tearing down of barriers that work against women and their attempts to breastfeed their children. Forcing women to nurse behind closed doors destroys the collective knowledge and support that our ancestors used to benefit from before breastfeeding became taboo. Before the over-sexualization of breasts, women were free to feed anywhere and this community and wealth of knowledge did exist. Right now 49 out of 50 states currently have laws to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public but women are still ostracized and harassed for doing so every day. If women today were truly free to feed their children in the open, it would impact breastfeeding rates and outcomes for generations to come. With this entry I challenge the notion that women should breastfeed in private and hope to remove the barriers women face by being kept in isolation. I would like to share a story to put things in perspective: A Chimpanzee was raised in captivity and got pregnant without ever being around other mothers and their young. When her baby was born, she didn't know what to do or how to feed her baby. The zookeepers eventually had to intervene and artificially feed the baby. When she became pregnant again, the zoo had an idea and contacted the local chapter of La Leche League. Members of LLL started going to the zoo with their babies, feeding them in front of the gestating chimpanzee so she could see how fellow primates do it. Once her baby was born they returned to feed next to her. Even though she stumbled a bit at first, they taught her by example and she prevailed. Although breastfeeding is natural it doesn’t always come naturally. In many cases mothers need direction, practice and community. Just like the Chimpanzee, many new mothers have never witnessed another woman breastfeed before they became a mother themselves. I find this absurd and it is something I wish to change!

Entry Details
  • Art form: Time-Based
  • Depth: 1 inch
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Width: 22 inches
  • Year created: 2016
  • Height: 28 inches