Art, oral-history project aims to share women’s birth stories without judgment
“Birth is this thing that ties everyone together.”
Forrest SolisForrest Solis is an associate professor in the School of Art, an academic unit of ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. is seated in her studio adjacent to her Phoenix home when she makes this statement. The air in the studio is rich with the scent of oil paint emanating from the many canvases resting haphazardly against every free inch of wall in the small space.
Each one is part of the Arizona State University associate professor’s latest artistic endeavor, “Creative Push,”“Creative Push” has received initial funding from ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research, the School of Art and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. an ongoing art and oral-history project that aims to record and disseminate women’s birth stories without judgment.
The larger-than-life scenes depicted on the canvases in Solis’ studio tell her personal story of the labor and delivery of her son, an experience she describes as traumatic.
“It was a really amazing experience,” she said. “But was it magical and beautiful? No.”
And that’s something she wasn’t expecting — mostly because she didn’t really know what to expect.
“I think books like ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’ while they’re very useful, don’t give you the whole picture,” said Deborah Sussman Susser, an ASU colleague of Solis’ who co-teaches the creative writing workshop “Mothers Who Write” and who contributed her own birth story to “Creative Push.”
The “whole picture,” according to Solis and many other women who participated in the birth story project, includes things that people just aren’t willing to talk about; things like women’s bodies and their various parts and functions.
The project serves as a platform to present an ever-growing collection of recorded birth stories and visual artworks: The birth stories are from members of the public who wished to share her story; artists then used those stories as inspiration to create artwork.
The recorded stories also serve as a research tool for organizations such as the Kinsey Institute in Indiana and ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research. More than 50 stories and 25 artworks have been created so far.
All of it can be heard and viewed in a virtual exhibition on the “Creative Push” website. An exhibition of 20 stories and their respective artwork will take place Feb. 4-13 at the ASU Step Gallery in downtown Phoenix, with the opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 5, coinciding with the First Fridays art walk. Preceding the reception will be a screening of Irene Lusztig’s film “The Motherhood Archives,” from 4 to 6 p.m. Lusztig will be present to introduce her film and answer questions afterward.
Even in the year 2016, in a society that prides itself on advancements and breakthroughs in fields ranging from technology to social justice, the idea of openly discussing what’s really going on with a woman’s body during pregnancy, labor and delivery makes people squeamish. As a result, the topic is largely avoided, and women end up ill-prepared for — and often unreasonably uncomfortable with — one of mankind’s most necessary, most natural, most life-changing tasks.
But don’t worry; it gets worse.