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First Things: Sculpture and Maternity (No. 44)


Imagery of birth and fertility is ancient and culturally widespread, as could be expected of a subject that is at the origin of life for humans. From Paleolithic Europe to Cycladic Greece, from nineteenth-century Africa to twentieth-century Britain, extraordinary sculptures have imbued the pregnant body with a locus of potentiality, mystery and risk.

But what links sculpture and motherhood? Is the maternal to be found in a body, a position or a function? What are we actually looking for when we speak of a maternal form?

In this essay, Anne M Wagner considers the special ties that bind the condition of maternity - subject to change both bodily and socially - to the enduring artistic medium of sculpture.

This essay was written to accompany the exhibition Mother Figure: Modernist Maternities from the Leeds Sculpture Collections (21 September - 5 December 2004, the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery).

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