Expecting Art Exhibition

Natalie Taylor, Assistant Project Manager, explains A Better Start Southend’s initiative to showcase local expectant mothers’ creative responses to their pregnancy experiences.

Natalie Taylor

In the Autumn of 2022, A Better Start Southend (ABSS) began working in partnership with Focal Point Gallery to deliver an exciting and innovative series of workshops – ‘Expecting Art’. Expectant parents who lived in an ABSS ward were invited to take part in the free weekly group sessions at the gallery.

The project was designed to collate the women’s experiences of pregnancy and collectively produce an artistic outcome, dictated entirely by the path the participants wanted to explore. Led by local artists, the group began the sessions by breaking down inhibitions through discussion, portrait sketching and exploring different art techniques. The sessions allowed the women to collaborate through their thoughts, fears, hopes and aspirations related to their pregnancy experiences and interpret the feelings creatively in a safe space.

The final pieces were plaster casts of each of the women’s pregnant torsos, from their neck to their hips, made individual by personal thoughts creatively displayed with collage, gold leaf and other mixed media, resulting in unique sculptures which were suspended in the main window of the gallery.

This is how Focal Point Gallery described the works:

‘Their bodies, hung and on display from the outside of the gallery, is a comment on audience’s lack of connection to the form beyond the appearance, and the commodity they felt their own body had become. It is only when the visitor enters the window space within the gallery that they see inside the cast form and learn of the individual stories that describes each of the person’s individual life and thoughts.’

An addition to the installation experience was an audio soundscape of a baby’s heartbeat from an ultrasound which enhanced the viewing experience.

The exhibition was an opportunity to explore different experiences of expectant mothers through art in a prime location in the Southend community. The response to the exhibition was well received and visitors enjoyed the mixed media and soundscape installation. A video of the creative process was projected on the outside screen, Big Screen Southend, by Realm video.

The project provided noticeable benefits to the women creatively but also the friendships that the group formed throughout the journey were added bonuses that the women have since continued.

The private viewing on 18January was well attended and the women enjoyed viewing their artworks in the public space, along with their families.

Here are some quotes from different participants:

“We all decided to make casts in plaster and it’s interesting to see the different results from our different experiences.”
“My cast was made at 35 weeks of pregnancy – it’s something nice to take home from the experience.”
“The project enabled me to have some ‘me time’ before the arrival of my baby, especially with having an older child already.”

Tara Poore, Director of ABSS, said:

“Expecting Art is a first of its kind for ABSS, the creative process has brought an excellent dimension to women’s experiences of pregnancy.”

The Expecting Art project was part of the S for Southend 2023 exhibition at Focal Point Gallery from Wednesday 18until Sunday 19 February 2023. Focal Point Gallery supports the production and presentation of new and recent contemporary art. The gallery collaborates with partners to present group and solo exhibitions to develop new audiences and engage local communities.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.