(Re)producing Reproduction: obstetrics, midwifery, and mothering

with Jessica DandonaVanessa Dion Fletcher and Lyndsay Mann

Wednesday 8th June, 4pm to 5.30pm BST / 11am to 12.30pm EDT

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Jessica M. Dandona, “(Re)producing Reproduction: Obstetrical Training Models and Methods, 1880–1900”.

This paper comprises a close look at the material and visual culture of obstetrical training in the late 19th-century North Atlantic world, focusing on the manikins, machines, and models employed in contemporary midwifery courses. Created during a time of growing interest in public health, widespread anxiety over rising infant mortality, and emerging pro-natalist policies, these widely produced pedagogical objects provided an interactive, mechanistic, and process- oriented simulacrum of the birthing body. Once purpose-built by individual midwives and physicians, by the latter half of the 19th century, obstetrical teaching devices were mass-produced using durable commercial materials. Examples discussed include obstetrical simulators designed by renowned obstetricians, such as the Budin-Pinard manikin, as well as anatomical models of the female pelvic basin by Auzoux and Tramond. 

Such works must be viewed, I suggest, in the context of similarly proliferating forms of two-dimensional media, including the wood engravings, half-tone photographs, and chromolithograph illustrations that filled the pages of treatises on the anatomy of pregnancy and childbirth. Together, such works created a densely saturated visual economy at once focused on and characterized by the act of reproduction in all its forms—both bodily and technological. Efforts to standardize the representation of childbirth through the duplication and dissemination of key images and texts, I will argue, constituted a response to the unpredictability of childbirth itself. Objects employed in obstetrical teaching in this period thus sought to construct a consistent framework of both method and practice, within which the unexpected could be accommodated, managed, and made to signify.

Vanessa Dion Fletcher, “How to Own Your Cervix”. 

I always want to see something 
Better if I can feel something,
Better if I can make something 
 
I want to understand my body, 
Not to control it, 
But to live and enjoy it.  

Porcupine quills, glass beads, damask patterns and menstrual blood are used to consider how our bodies are defined physically and culturally. A Western progress narrative often assumes an irrelevance of a feminist practice, but we will never be done making meaning of our gendered and cultured bodies. Furthermore, a feminist body practice is far from irrelevant in current social and political contexts. European and Native iconography, materials and processes of embellishment are show in clothing, furniture and wallpaper as utilitarian forms which have been marginalized and devalued. This history of establishing hierarchy of artistic practice in relation to primarily domestic art forms, often done by women, runs parallel to the history of Indigenous art practices that were, and are, similarly devalued in the western canon. In this presentation Dion Fletcher will share and review works from her exhibition Own Your Cervix, and make connections to personal, community and institutional learning. 

Lyndsay Mann, “Women, midwifery and obstetrics: embodied knowledge, institutional practices and shared experience

My presentation focuses on themes and methods from my new film, As You Were (2022). In this project, midwives and obstetricians who have themselves been pregnant and given birth, examine the role of personal experience in professional practice. The work also explores the relational dynamics between clinicians of women-led, women-centred healthcare within the medical establishment. 

As You Were developed from a series of art and conversation sessions I devised for first-time new mothers in 2019, which took place at Surgeons’ Hall Museum, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Attending with their new-borns, participants were invited to make objects using felt in surroundings populated with items from the museum’s historical midwifery and obstetric archives, and pathology collection. Tactile materials and bodily artefacts became conduits for deeply personal reflections about recent maternity experiences. For As You Were, I set out to host and document similar events with midwives and obstetricians. Adapted for the pandemic, I created a series of sculptures based on artefacts from the collections and sent one of the objects I produced to each of the healthcare professionals who speak in the film. Our conversations began with the women holding and describing their object to situate materiality and touch at the core of our discussion about embodied experiences. 

As You Were started pre-Covid19. Its development charts the experiences of frontline healthcare workers with caring responsibilities practicing within institutional contexts during the pandemic, and my own experience as an artist and mother in academia revaluating her research alongside teaching and caring responsibilities. 

About the speakers:

Jessica M. Dandona earned her B.A. from Brown University in French Studies and the History of Art and Architecture and her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in Art History, with a specialization in 19th-century French art and visual culture. She is currently Professor of Art History in the Liberal Arts Department at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she teaches courses on art and empire, the body in art and visual culture, and modern art. Dr. Dandona has been the recipient of research grants from the Fulbright Association, the Boston Medical Library, the American Philosophical Society, the Huntington Library, and other institutions. Her current book project, The Transparent Woman: Medical Visualities in Fin-de-Siècle Europe and the United States, 1880–1900, examines the visual culture of medicine at the end of the 19th century.

Vanessa Dion Fletcher is a Lenape and Potawatomi neurodiverse Artist. Her family is from Eelūnaapèewii Lahkèewiitt (displaced from Lenapehoking) and European settlers. She employs porcupine quills, Wampum belts, and menstrual blood to reveal the complexities of what defines a body physically and culturally. Reflecting on an Indigenous and gendered body with a neurodiverse mind Dion Fletcher creates art using composite media; performance, textiles and video. Disability and Colonialism collide to make a perspective of language that is fractured and politicized. A student of the Lenape Language, Dion Fletcher, works with a small and dedicated community to speak their language. Her writing has been published in Art In America, Backflash Magazine and The Journal As/Us. She graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2016 with an MFA in performance and has exhibited at Art Mur Montreal, The Queer Arts Festival Vancouver, Satellite Art show Miami.  Her work is in the Indigenous Art Centre, Joan Flasch Artist Book collection, Vtape, Seneca College, and the Archives of American Art. Dion Fletcher is a 2020-2021 Jackman Humanities Institute fellow at the University of Toronto.

Lyndsay Mann is an artist filmmaker. She researches ways that embodied experiences can resist and transform structural pressures. Her work seeks routes for redress and reciprocity, examining institutional narratives of objective knowledge and the ways in which these infiltrate our personal perspectives. Voice and belonging are central subjects in her practice. Her observational yet intimate moving image works also integrate her drawing, sculpture and writing. Lyndsay studied at Central Saint Martins, London and completed a PhD in art and philosophy, titled ‘Voicing Uncertainty’, at the University of Edinburgh in 2017. She was a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art from 2013-2022, and is currently based in Edinburgh and Berlin. Recent exhibitions and events include: Desert is a Forest, Jameel Art Centre, Dubai; Re-rooting, Folkestone Triennial, UK; Florilegium, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; Seeing Systems, videoclub + ArtScience Museum, Singapore; Utter, Utter, Utter, Cooper Gallery, Dundee; Character Double, LUX Scotland; >>FFWD, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai; The Extended Voice, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Say-so, Glasgow Film Festival and MAP; Viewing Voices, Edinburgh International Film Festival; Lyndsay Mann, (solo) Careof Center for Contemporary Art, Milan.

Author: fionajohnstone

Fiona Johnstone is an art historian with a particular interest in the relationship between art and visual culture and the medical humanities. She was awarded her PhD from Birkbeck in 2015, and is currently completing two books for I.B. Tauris: a monograph,  AIDS & Representation: Portraits and Self-Portraits during the AIDS Crisis in America, and an edited volume,  Anti-Portraiture: Challenging the Limits of the Portrait. Fiona co-curated the 2017 exhibition  Mr A Moves in Mysterious Ways: Selected Artists from the Adamson Collection,  and was an invited participant in  a series of public events run by the Wellcome Library in association with this exhibition. She lectures in the History and Theory of Photography at Middlesex University and the University of the West of England.

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