Betty LaDuke’s “Borneo: Iban Birth Rite”



Borneo: Iban Birth Rite (Copyright 1981, Betty LaDuke. All Rights Reserved)

Raised in the Bronx as the child of Russian and Polish immigrants, artist Betty LaDuke has traveled the globe for over 65 years while creating and sharing her work with numerous cultures[1].  Based in Oregon since the 1970s, she has devoted much of her creative energies to an exploration of the human experience as it exists worldwide, especially from the perspective of other woman and female artists.  Since 1972, she has made annual visits to work with urban women and artists in places such as Santiago, Chile; Kingston, Jamaica; and the villages of San Juanico, Mexico; Rumah Rawing, Borneo; Jitwapur, India; and Beleze, Eritrea [2].

LaDuke was excited to share her work, “Borneo: Iban Birth Rite” with Visualizing Birth.  She writes about some of the traditions that inspired the creation of this beautiful work:

The Iban of Sarawak, Borneo, live in a tropical forest environment that they farm through a slash-and-burn process, taking only what they need from the forest to sustain life and community. Borneo: Iban Birth Rite was inspired by the sacred puas, or large cotton blankets that women weave with intricate ikat symbolism. They serve as spirit protectors and cultural guardians when wrapped around the shoulders of the newlywed, the newborn infant, the healer, the infirm, and the dying [3].

The rich, earthy colors of LaDuke’s Borneo invite viewers into the birth scene.  Flanked by female assistants, the birthing mother appears as the largest figure in the painting.  She squats strongly, her baby emerging from below.  She and her attendants wear calm, almost smiling faces.  The image is helpful in the visualization of birth, normalizing the event of birth and depicting it as something that is shared and celebrated between women.

[1] Geneva Chin, “Ashland Artist Betty LaDuke Shares 65 Years of Artwork From Around the World,”

[2] Betty LaDuke, An Artist’s Journey from Oregon to Timbuktu (1998)

[3] Betty LaDuke, An Artist’s Journey from Oregon to Timbuktu (1998), Part III: Spirituality – Spirituality and Aesthetic Diversity: Curry, Rice, Breadfruit, and Frijoles