Last spring I applied for a drawing project and exhibition in the UK – to draw again at Oxford’s famous John Radcliffe Hospital, and this time to show in their gallery as well. There was much positive correspondence, and I got a grant from Tegnernes Fornening (the graphic artist’s association in Denmark) to frame and ship my drawings, and to cover a 5 weeks’ working stay.
I decided to exhibit childbirth and baby drawings, my usual subjects. Among those I framed were my best childbirth drawings.
Here are some of the drawings I framed: a series of 10 with a father supporting a mother through labour and birth, a drawing of a child waiting to “catch” her baby brother, and 3 from a series of a woman in labour – her face drawn during contractions and rest.
I had however overlooked a note in the hospital gallery information slip: “the Gallery does not accept images containing nudity.”
After some letters to and fro, I realized they meant it – no nudes was the policy and that included birthing mothers and even newborns. The show was ready, and this meant changing and reframing the childbirth half almost entirely. Only clothed or discreetly sheet-covered mothers and diapered babied would be allowed. Of the iffy copies I sent by email for approval, nearly all my most beautiful drawings were refused – all these above. I was told definitively that “No women with their legs open giving birth, nowhere most of a female nude body is shown.” In fact: anything even nearing the vagina would not be acceptable.
Look back at the drawings. Is your perception of them changed? Unfortunately it has, for me. The drawings are repetitive, of movement, made at full speed. Each is contained and complete, all its lines are important and integral to the whole. I have an intimate series of a mother’s face during labour, as she went through through strong contractions and intermittent rest. Looking at them again, I realized that several must be left out because of swift lines that some prying, nasty eyes with their own agenda had deliberately searched for and interpreted as prurient, salacious!
From this series, showing a mother’s face in labour, during contractions and rest: Of this series, Only the first and second were accepted.
And the little Danish girl waiting excitedly to “catch” her baby brother – censored because of some abstract lines – the innocent subject of her attention. In the top corner, the midwife’s words in Danish: “you’re ready to receive him, right?”
I came to Oxford and exhibited what I was allowed to. I had some idea of indignantly picketing the gallery, or publishing the “censored” drawings in the local press. Almost I am sorry I didn´t. But there are other galleries – and maybe the chance to tell the story in a small, nicely produced illustrated catalog. Watch this page.
The next blog tells of my Oxford drawing experience, and why drawing on the neonatal wards is, for the very best of reasons, over forever.