Infertility is a subject that many of us struggle to talk about – but a group of artists and photographers wants their work to start difficult conversations.
Around one in eight women in the UK will have difficulty conceiving – yet many of us struggle to talk about infertility. Too often, the subject is met with unhelpful breeziness (“It’ll happen as soon as you stop trying!”), judgement (“Well, you did leave it quite late”) or – perhaps worst of all – awkward silence.
However, a new community of artists and photographers is trying to break the silence around infertility by exploring the subject through their work. These artists include Tabitha Moses, who had her daughter via a donor egg after experiencing miscarriage and unsuccessful IVF, and Tina Reid-Peršin, whose photographic and video installation project Photos I’ll Never Take is reminiscent of a family album – with the role of a child played by a doll.
Work by these artists will be on display at this year’s Fertility Fest, the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility. Fertility Fest’s founder, Jessica Hepburn – a former Stylist Woman of the Week – was inspired to ask contemporary artists to exhibit at the festival after visiting Frida Kahlo’s Blue House in Mexico City, and being struck by how the groundbreaking feminist artist explored themes of infertility in her work.
Scroll down to learn more about the artists, their experiences and their work.
Moses’ work is inspired by her experiences of miscarriage, unsuccessful IVF and pregnancy via a donor egg, and this series of portraits reflects the stories of a selection of patients at the Hewitt Fertility Centre in Liverpool.
Using colourful cotton and decorative line, Moses embroidered traditional and non-traditional symbols of fertility – including fertility goddesses and a pair of lucky knickers – onto gowns worn during IVF treatment. She also gathered information about the things people use to help them conceive and embroidered them onto the gowns, such as syringes and empty medical bottles.
Reid-Peršin has been working on her ongoing project Photos I’ll Never Take since 2011. Through a series of photographic and video tableaux, she explores her feelings about the family she’ll never have, using the concept of a fictional family album to try and convey the sense of grief that accompanies her situation.
In place of a child, she uses a shop mannequin and involves her husband, family members and friends in the creation of the photos.
Glover’s project Life in Glass was developed during an artist’s residency at the IVF clinic at Guy’s Hospital in London, and draws on the photographic archive of Nobel Prize-winning IVF pioneer, Professor Robert Edwards.
Through her work, Glover aims to enhance the experience of the clinical environment, drawing upon images from the outside world of nature and combining them with scientific images of embryos and sperm.
Ingleby’s photographic project SEED explores different aspects of fertility treatment through a series of portraits, conceptual and documentary images. SEED Collection is a series of portraits taken minutes before egg collection, while SEED Stories uses clinical imagery from a couple’s treatment cycle to express an experience of having fertility treatment.
Each of the images in SEED represents a key stage in IVF when the statistical chance of having a baby can be measured. The size of the images change as the chance of having a baby fluctuates, representing the physical and emotional rollercoaster of having IVF.
Foster’s artworks celebrate the lives of his three children lost through miscarriage, challenging the perception that miscarriage happens only to women.
Called Labour of Love, his body of work acts as a double-edged sword between the joys and despairs of an expectant father. Pain will not have the last word is a 76 ft scroll painting exploring the everyday experiences and joys of being a dad.
Isabel Davis and Anna Burel
Conceiving Histories is a collaboration between Davis and Burel, a literary historian and visual artist respectively. The duo produce creative and fictional reworkings of the archival materials of ‘un-pregnancy’, the word they use for the time before diagnosis of pregnancy or infertility.
Fertility Fest runs from 8-13 May at the Bush Theatre, London.
Images: Courtesy of the artists and Fertility Fest