Two hundred and eighty one


To Give Birth is a Fearsome Thing

2009 by Katie Elder
Bermondsey Project Space;

Elder’s explorations of the parts of the body — suspending mid-air, fragmented and isolated — grow intriguingly from her earlier work, which explores the potential and strength of the body’s capabilities by remembering our likeness and shared traits with other animals. Digging into the raw emotion, pain and sheer determination of a woman giving birth, Elder contracts her bodies into animals to demonstrate the wild and basic instinct that guides through birth. What is so interesting about Elder’s work is her varying explorations of the body — here animalistic traits are visualised to literally take over the body, whereas to explore the expectations of femininity, parts of the body became absent as she fragmented them (see postcard 210). To Give Birth is a Fearsome Thing is made up of several paintings, all showing a woman in a different stance of the process of giving birth. Hands up on the wall with feet on the floor immediately evokes images of four legged animals raising their forelegs in protest, and the pose draws the woman’s body down to the ground, distracting from her usual upright composure. The bump swells impossibly, again pulling the body downward, together with the weight of the full breasts. This pull, this magnitude of birth, is illustrated in the drips of paint that run, almost chillingly vertical, down from the body — meltings of effort. Red is tinged in the spread palms and the spine, the darkness of pressure and strain, while the rest of the skin clings milky and clear, making the leopard’s distinct spots all the more clear. The hair, tousled and unkempt, is wild too, though at a glance can still be mistaken for the tired bowing head of a woman. Only by looking closely can one see the speckled nose and pink tongue of a cat, bowed surreptitiously under the elegance of a thin curved arm— a juxtaposition, reflective perhaps of our expectations.


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