Still Parents at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
A few weeks ago I visited Still Parents. Life After Baby Loss at the Whitworth Gallery. It is a moving
exhibition that brings together art works and writing by bereaved parents with collections from the gallery. I had heard of the therapy sessions, using creative work as a way of working through loss and that these sessions had even happened at home during the pandemic. Names of babies who have died are on a thread around the bottom of the exhibition wall and you can record yours in the exhibition space and online.
These are some of the photos I took of the exhibition, the work and some of the themes that the artwork was grouped in. What really struck me was how thoughtful the layout of the exhibition was. For one thing it is upstairs and in a quiet part of the gallery (there is access by lift) with facts about still birth, neonatal loss and
miscarriage going up the stairs. There are plenty of trigger warnings and information about context. In the middle of one of the sections was a screened off seat with a table and books and leaflets on grief. It meant you could sit and get away from it, cry away from people in privacy.
The different themes address grief and parenthood. I expected ‘Strength and resilience’ and ‘Isolation’ but
was really surprised and pleased to see ‘In Celebration of the Female Body’. I dwelt in bodily self-loathing after a diagnosis of infertility and submerged myself in it again after the death of Emily. Addressing issues around reproduction and feelings about your body are crucial in healing.
I found the porcelain uterus by Adinda van’t Klooster really struck a chime because of its combination of statistics, the female body and ethereal glow. Looking her work up, I found she has done many more on stillbirth and the placenta, including Each Egg a World. After Emily my placenta came out in bits and may have been a cause for her premature delivery, but the hospital threw it away, which infuriated the specialist hospital where Emily and I ended up. (Of course, I didn’t worry why it had happened until I got pregnant again.)
And of course, there were the baby boxes. The exhibition was put together with SANDs who provide
boxes for you to keep momentos of your baby. This box was incredibly important to me and seeing these boxes in a row was one of the most striking and shivering displays in the exhibition. I remembered using objects from a memory box in the case on Remembrance I curated years ago at the What Does it Mean to be Human exhibition at UCL in 2017. In the event the box donated by Sands didn’t come in time for it to be put in the case and, after a bit of soul searching, I used a blanket and teddy from Emily’s own box. Only my fellow curators knew. I decided it was important for this expression of grief to be seen and
wrote this label:
In supporting those who are grieving, there has been increased recognition of the value of memory making. When a baby dies before, during or shortly after birth it can be difficult for others to recognise the bereavement as there is often little tangible evidence of the baby’s existence.
And now the ‘Object Loan’ paperwork, signed by my colleague and friend Subhadra Das, sits in Emily’s box as a kind of curatorial aftermath to her life.
Still Parents does not make for easy viewing or immersion, but then it shouldn’t. It is empathetic and moving. Whitworth Gallery and the Friends of Whitworth have performed a duty of care and much needed support in putting this exhibition on.