University College Dublin hosts “Reimagining Birth Conference” (July 2-3)

In two weeks, University College Dublin will be hosting an exciting and important conference on birth, the Reimagining Birth conference.  Scholars, artists, and midwives, among others, will gather to share their work and perspectives on birth.  I am thrilled to be a part of this event and have included here for my readers my paper abstract and some of the main images that will be part of my presentation, all of which I believe are useful in the visualization of birth:


Birth Art and the Transformation of Religious Imagery:
Representations of Birth and Motherhood as Contemporary Forms of The Sacred  

This research examines how members of the contemporary birth movement are actively using religious, secular, and re-sacralized imagery both in the visualization of labor and birth, and as a ritualistic part of birth as a rite of passage. Utilizing the research of Robbie Davis-Floyd and Melissa Cheyney on the ritualistic aspects of home and hospital births, as well as an examination of religious imagery for birth now available online, this paper contends that the use of transnational, transhistorical and trans-religious imagery for birth provides rich ground for an understanding of art images of birth as contemporary representations of the sacred.  This paper explains and analyzes how the secular usage of religious imagery points to an important threefold dialectic at play between the sacred and the secular, whereby the art object becomes re-sacralized to partake ritualistically in birth as a rite of passage.  In the ultimate stage of this dialectic, the artwork no longer represents an object from which a religious context has first been extracted in order to provide its viewers with a practical tool used in birth and labor.  Instead, the artists depict such secular events as birth and motherhood as divine acts in themselves, and the viewer therefore enters the artwork right away with an understanding that these events are in fact sacred events.  I will show a variety of images, some of which are well known and historical, and some of which are contemporary and previously unstudied or unknown.

The Neijing tu

Envisioning the Body as Vessel of World and Cosmos

Divine Figure Giving Birth

Feminine Divinity and a Posture for Birth


Calmness and Strength in the Birthing Figure of the Sheela-na-gig


Tlazolteotl - Aztec Goddess of Fertility and Midwives

Venus of Willendorf

The Woman of Willendorf: Connecting to a Lineage of Birthing Bodies


Pachamama: Fertility Goddess and Mother of All

Sara Star’s The Crowning (copyright 2004)

Visualizing Sacred Birth in Sara Star's "The Crowning"

Kate Hansen’s Tiara and Even Marie (copyright 2011)

The Power of Birth and Motherhood in the Artwork of Kate Hansen