Transformation through Birth in Anoa Kanu’s “Girl in Bamboo Earrings”



Girl in Bamboo Earrings
Copyright 2016, Anoa Kanu, All Rights Reserved.

Artist Anoa Kanu’s Girl in Bamboo Earrings offers the viewer an image to use in the visualization of birth that is both calming and empowering.  The main figure squats amid lush vegetation, supported by warm brown shoots of bamboo behind her. Cradling her belly, the woman’s arms and hands arch down and draw the viewer’s attention to the soft swirl of a crowning baby at her vulva.  She remains completely serene during this process of birth and emergence, her facial expression focused and calm. Her body and its processes are part of the natural world.

The painting emphasizes the squatting position, an ideal manner of utilizing gravity as a natural aid in delivering one’s baby (for other images of the squatting position, see: Ancient Egypt, Judy Chicago, PachamamaSculptureTantric).  Unassisted in the birth, the painted figure also reminds other pregnant women that they are part of a long lineage of women who have birthed before.

In our correspondence, Anoa Kanu has described the making of this image, and her words about its creation and meaning are perhaps as powerful and as helpful in the visualization of birth as is her painting:

I am a painter but I also work in women’s health with new mothers and babies in an urban environment. I see a lot of beauty, new life, beginnings.  But I also see a lot of disempowerment, young women not knowing their rights, what questions to ask or that they could even ask.

When I imagined this image in my mind’s eye, I saw a young woman, birthing for the first time, knowing she was capable, transcending space and time. She is protected and is able to tap into her elemental self and ancestral memory. She transforms through the birth process into a new being, a more fully empowered version of herself.

The first birth I had ever been to was a water birth, it was like this. The midwife was not intrusive. The mother was fully committed to the natural birth process. The spirit of the birth environment was palpable and womblike itself. She was mostly quiet but also moaned and grunted when she needed to. She moved as she wished. It was clear she had gone into a very deep place within herself. At the very end, she let out the most guttural of sounds. She birthed her baby. She was not delivered.

Not every birth will be like this, there is no one way. But I know this exists, that it is possible. Reclaiming birth is an essential part of our liberation.

Anoa Kanu is a Harlem based watermedia artist with an academic background in Art History and African Studies. She is also a Registered Nurse and a certified lactation consultant. More of her work and her contact information are available through her website. Instagram: anoaloves