The Power of Birth and Motherhood in the Artwork of Kate Hansen
Giving birth to a son in 2007 and a daughter in 2008, Canadian artist Kate Hansen entered into one of her most energetic and creative artistic periods, beginning a series of portraits devoted to capturing the bond between mother and child. Seeking to capture elements of the divine in the union of mother and child, and working primarily in crayon and gold leaf on paper, Hansen developed a powerful collection of mother-child portraits. Accompanying each of the portraits on her website is a birth story written by the birth mother to describe her own individual experience of birth as a rite of passage. Using the sacred symbol of the halo, Hansen’s work depicts birth and motherhood as rites of passage that are sacred in themselves. Describing the momentous event that birth represents for a mother, Hansen expains how she worked to capture this sacredness,
For everyone it [birth] was a rite of passage, a moment in our lives right before motherhood, when everything changes even ones sense of self. I wanted to draw some parallels between our own ideals of what a mother should be and the cultural ideal of motherhood, symbolized by the Virgin Mary. I wanted simultaneously to honour motherhood, in all of its imperfection.
Hansen’s artwork, which manifests the sacredness of the immanent world, reminds the viewer of how the most human of events, such as birth and motherhood, are sacred.
In Tiara and Eve Marie (pictured above), Hansen captures the purity of mother and child, with mother Tiara cradling baby Eve Marie to her breast while sharing a gentle gaze with the child. There are moments, divine moments, that occur when a mother bonds with her child, bringing her baby close to her and looking down at his or her face, and this is the moment that Hansen’s work achieves. Other pregnant women can utilize images like Tiara and Eve Marie because the works will remind them of the serene power that a mother can feel when she is connected to her baby in this way. Also, as I have written in a previous post, envisioning her child already born is another powerful tool that the pregnant woman can use as she approaches the birth of her child, and Hansen’s works would be helpful in this way.
Although some claim that a woman has no time for anything else once she becomes a mother, Hansen makes an extremely important point on this matter: not only did she not abandon her art making following the births of her children, but she witnessed how motherhood brought a flourishing of artistic energy and creativity to her work and life. I find her words here so important, both to the pregnant woman and to the contemporary voice of feminism, of which I will speak more in a bit,
After the birth of my son in 2007 I felt an incredible energy and drive to make art. Contrary to the popular belief that art making is one of the things that falls to the wayside after the birth of children, in my case I felt inspired and compelled by my experience of childbirth and motherhood. It was almost as though the creative act of making another human being awoke a creative drive in me. I also found that the time limitations involved in caring for an infant forced me to be more disciplined in my art making. I would eke out hours here and there when my son was sleeping to continue my portraits. After my daughter was born in 2008 I had determined to form a series of mother and child portraits and accompany them with birth stories written by each subject.
Pregnant women and new mothers are often concerned that, with the birth of their children, life as they know it will be over, or that their lives in the working world will be negatively impacted. Although it is fundamentally true that women’s lives change drastically after birth, birth and motherhood also have the capacity to deeply empower women, bringing new energy and vitality both to their work and to their creative selves. Tapping this power not only makes for amazing mothers but could also be key to how women engage and succeed in other matters of the world. For some women, the connection between birth-mother-woman-feminist is profound, and more discussion of this power could embolden the feminist movement.
Kate Hansen has an academic and studio background in art. She currently resides with her family in Courtenay on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has exhibited her work in Chicago, Toronto and in Courtenay. She may be contacted or more of her artwork may be seen through her website.