PARTURIENT PROSPECTS

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Transitional Spaces

Extract from Figuring Maternity: Christine Dixie’s Parturient Prospects by Prof. Brenda Schmahmann, Dearte n75_a4.

At the top of Blaeu’s map are nine roundels depicting harbours, spaces at which the explorer might arrive before proceeding on a journey to an unmapped interior, and which thus mark the threshold between known and unknown worlds. Dixie substitutes these images of harbours with scenes derived from early modern representations of labour and delivery, thus pointing to a concept of birth as one in which the child undergoes passage between the mysterious and atavistic interior of the mother’s body and the ‘civilized’ world.

Enacting Gender

Extract from Figuring Maternity: Christine Dixie’s Parturient Prospects by Prof. Brenda Schmahmann, Dearte n75_a4.

 

In the Birthing Tray series, as in The Interior, an interest in the ways in which gendered norms play out in birth processes is explored through references to discourses associated with expeditions and discovery. Dixie indicates that she includes in her representations ‘little objects or scenarios that refer to navigation or exploring the world’, places that ‘women could not have gone and hadn’t had access to’.

Text/Image

Extract from Figuring Maternity: Christine Dixie’s Parturient Prospects by Prof. Brenda Schmahmann, Dearte n75_a.

 

Dixie has taken care to sustain a reading of the central motif in The Interior as a map of Africa as well as a representation of an illustration of female anatomy. Hence she represents various animals within its boundaries – creatures, she indicates, that were introduced by cartographers when a terrain remained unknown and which do in fact feature in Blaeu’s map – as well as ‘medical names of parts of the body, cervix and uterus for example’.

The Observed Viewer

Transgressive Christian iconography in Post-Apartheid South African Art (2011) by Dr. Karen Von Veh.

Extract from Chp.4 – Christine Dixie’s Evocations of Motherhood.

 

Dixie’s interest in fragmentation as a strategy for deconstructing the power of the gaze is further interrogated in the series of six woodcuts entitled Blocking, made in 2008 (Figs.4.49 to 4.54), which are a development of the six lower images on either side of the format in The Interior. The title refers to the physical process of working with a woodcut block, which Dixie indicates by creating the smaller blocks with an edge suggesting three-dimensionality, and by creating a thin white line where the block has been abstracted from the larger image. In this way the works are self-reflexive, but they also engage conceptually with the notion of ‘blocking’ the gaze by manipulating the images as fragments and interrogating the notion of who ‘owns’ the look. There are three sets of images, therefore, that have the Virgin looking at the child’s genitals as their theme, and three that focus on the baby looking at the Virgin’s breast. (p.123)

Re(viewing) Landscape

Extract from Figuring Maternity: Christine Dixie’s Parturient Prospects by Prof. Brenda Schmahmann, Dearte n75_a4.

 

In The Interior, Dixie alludes to the ways in which medical discourses on the reproductive body might be viewed in light of a politics of exploration that underpinned the establishment of a European colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

Through these simultaneous references to cartography and illustrations of female anatomy, Dixie refers to the ways in which journeys of expedition and discovery were, repeatedly, conceptualised as acts of male penetration into a female interior – an analogy that is made explicit in the title for the work. But this association has still further resonance and meaning: in alluding to illustrations in which the disclosure of the mysteries of female reproductive anatomy catered to libidinous interests, The Interior demonstrates how uncharted terrain was itself eroticised by explorers.

Narratives/Intertextuality

Extract from Figuring Maternity: Christine Dixie’s Parturient Prospects by Prof. Brenda Schmahmann, Dearte n75_a4

 

Five of the Birthing Tray images represent caesarean section deliveries, and the three examined here, Birthing Tray – Wine (4), Birthing Tray – Eggs (5) and Birthing Tray – Wishbone (6), were all based on prints illustrating the birth of Julius Caesar16 included in an early modern manuscript of Roman history, Les Faits des Romains. Dixie’s choice of this subject matter was doubtless motivated to some extent by autobiographical factors: her son was delivered via caesarean section in 2003 and the procedure was to be used again to deliver her daughter in 2006. More crucially, however, this topic was especially amenable to a focus on the politics of gender underpinning birth practices.

References to the child of a caesarean section as ‘not of woman born’, as in the case of the character Macduff in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, implied not only a birth that was miraculous but also one that had transpired without any maternal contribution. Alternatively, visualisations of the birth of the Antichrist by caesarean were probably linked to a belief that the evil behaviour of the mother had given rise to diabolical forces and that her death in labour was in fact the immediate outcome of her perverse conduct.

Embedding Materiality

Transgressive Christian iconography in Post-Apartheid South African Art (2011) by Dr. Karen Von Veh.

Extract from Chp.4 – Christine Dixie’s Evocations of Motherhood.

 

The idea of a biological source for inferiority and the science/nature dichotomy was thus institutionalised in western thought through ‘rational’ scientific discourse. Dixie ironically promotes this ‘female irrationality’ by printing her images onto rice paper and then covering them with latex so the entire work looks and feels like soft skin rather than evoking the clinical precision of sharp edged lines on paper normally associated with map making. She furthermore sews the lines of latitude and longitude into the skin but inverts them so they are convex instead of concave, simulating the rounded shape of a pregnant stomach.36 The scientific map of Africa thus becomes a feminised medical diagram that interrogates her experience of the one area denied to men, conception and birth. (p.116)

End

Gender, Visual Culture and Explorations of Africa

PARTURIENT PROSPECTS

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