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Miriel Smith, Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Image: Nurture by Miriel Smith
Throughout history there have been many works of art depicting mothers nurturing a baby at the breast. In general, most people are not offended when they look at a work of art that includes a mother nourishing her child. Seeing a mother in real life who is nursing in a public place is however viewed differently by some. There are those who find it offensive or feel uncomfortable about mothers nursing their babies.
But breastfeeding is the biological norm even though bottle-feeding has become the norm in our culture. Breasts are seen as purely sexual by so many people these days, while their primary purpose for feeding babies is denigrated.
With my painting, I hope to raise awareness. I encourage viewers to participate in supporting mothers whom they find nursing in public spaces, in the hope that one day mothers will feel supported to meet their baby’s needs in any situation. As part of the project, I’m including “Thank you for nursing” cards, which read:
“Thank you for nursing in public. You’re helping other mamas to do the same and also helping to normalize breastfeeding for future generations.”
You can hand one of these cards to any nursing mother you encounter. The more the act of breastfeeding is openly supported and encouraged the sooner we can normalize breastfeeding for future generations.
Nurture is a diptych (a painting on two separate panels) of my daughters tandem nursing. I wanted each girl to have their own panel, framing each individually to focus on their personal needs for nursing. I chose to have my head cropped and my body divided by the space in between the paintings to keep the focus on them. After all, nursing has been and always will be about them.
I also wanted to capture the sibling bond that tandem nursing offers by showing them in almost mirror-like symmetry gazing at one another: a common occurrence when they nurse at the same time. The title Nurture is meant to evoke different levels of meaning. This work represents a mother nurturing her children at different phases of her children’s lives, for nourishment, security, and growth. The painting also represents the nurturing of relationships and the bond of sisterhood.
Above all Nurture is a call to humanity to act in supporting something that is pure but that in our society has become a complex issue for many. Mothers are afraid to leave home worrying they will need to breastfeed their babies or children while they are out. Mothers are closet nursing their toddlers for fear of being judged. This most basic need for security and nourishment for babies and toddlers requires protection.
Images of mothers nursing are just a small step toward normalizing breastfeeding. It’s crazy to think something as good as breastfeeding that is as natural as birth itself needs to be normalized! I want to cultivate a mother and child’s basic need to bond and stay connected.
Just this summer, Michigan became the 46th state to pass a law protecting nursing mothers from discrimination in public spaces. The Breastfeeding Anti-discrimination Act is a step in the right direction to encourage and support mothers who wish to exclusively breastfeed their babies. I encourage all moms to breastfeed their babies wherever and whenever baby is hungry.
Miriel Smith is an LLL Leader and a freelance artist living in Grand Rapids, MI, USA. She specializes in wall murals, faux finishing, stressing and antiquing, and art restoration.