If anyone has been waiting for a sign to make the mini climb up Calton Hill before the winter weather settles in and those dreaded stairs become a little too treacherous, let this be it. If not to experience the beautiful view and monuments, then certainly to visit the exhibition featuring the work of Glasgow based artist Stephanie Black-Daniels.
Her new installation piece titled Position & Attachment is currently being displayed at the Hillside Collective Gallery and invites a timely and crucial critique of the patriarchal cloud that looms over the female body in public spheres. The series presents a cinematographic diptych of two performance works that depict artist Black-Daniels in a distressed and tormented battle with her own body, fighting to remove a notably reserved piece of clothing—revealing her bare skin and breasts being concealed (or rather, confined) beneath the fabric. The repetitive gestures she performs are strenuous and draining, and the suffering and pain exuding from her movements regurgitate a deeply tragic reality that women endure every day.
Stephanie’s research for this piece was grounded in the shared experiences of a group of breastfeeding mothers. As such, viewers are invited to share their experiences of being made to feel uncomfortable with the natural functions of their own bodies and having to navigate their way in a shared, public space when encountering the work. The room intentionally offers nowhere to sit and the netted drapery that cuts through the centre of the space seems to function as a kind of unbreachable barrier forcing viewers to walk around it; never being truly comfortable in the room and feeling exposed and vulnerable. These factors alongside the accompanying rhythmic soundtrack to the piece create an unsettling and unwelcoming atmosphere that replicates the collective female struggle to nurse in public.
Significantly, the films create space for a conversation surrounding the male-dominated urban environments which make feeding a child something that women are ashamed of and even to an extent, afraid of. In this way, Stephanie’s piece calls into question the underlying gendered commentary that exists within public spaces that situate women as the primary childcare givers while fostering inhospitable environments for them to perform the natural practices of motherhood. Perhaps it’s also time for us to address why baby changing tables can only be found in women’s washrooms, or why men are praised for being outstanding parents just for taking their children to the park and women are not. Why a man feeding a child from a bottle is socially acceptable but a woman breastfeeding a child is, you guessed it—not.
I would particularly like to encourage a wider male audience for this piece if only to get a glimpse into one of the many struggles women face on a day-to-day basis whenever we leave the safety of our homes. I stood in that exhibition room for over 45 minutes, and not a single male viewer showed up. This alone speaks to the magnitude of this social issue, as the subject matter of breastfeeding has been warped into a taboo, shameful phenomenon—and it’s time we begin to re-write this narrative. I guarantee that the experience of this piece will take your breath away (well, maybe the climb too) and the exhibition ends on the 20th of November, so be sure to catch this must-see installation series before it’s too late. So long as you don’t wear heels and a skirt like I did, I am sure you will not regret the hike.
Image “View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill, Scotland, United Kingdom – cityscape photography” by Giuseppe Milo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.