chapter  14
9 Pages

Hidden in plain sight

Mapping the erasure of the maternal body from visual culture
WithMartina Hynan

The effective deletion of the mother's body from a scientific model of birth from the earlier periods has become a standard vision of birth in contemporary visual culture whereby reproductive medicine is taught. The experience of childbirth is effectively hidden in plain sight, the plain sight of the obstetric gaze that is encouraged within maternity systems. The maternal body is a contested site medically, socially, culturally and politically, and this also includes maternal deaths. A need to understand how maternal deaths are dealt with in Ireland led to a national campaign that has made these tragic deaths visible. From the 1960s, an emerging feminist discourse on the body, sexuality and gender included explorations of how the birthing body had come to be seen and not seen. In July 1984, artist Pauline Cummins completed the mural Celebration for the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin as part of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, just six months after Ann's death.