Judy Chicago’s Birth Project: Born Again

“If men had babies, there would be thousands of images of the crowning.”

– Judy Chicago, 1982

Between 1980 and 1985, artist Judy Chicago (b. 1939) and a team of 150 female needleworkers completed eighty-four textile and needle media works that analyzed the interrelationships among motherhood, maternity, femaleness, and gender. Chicago’s subsequent book, The Birth Project, catalogues the artworks and their production and seeks to reveal birth as spiritual and intellectual, a source of potent myth and symbol. The project includes images of childbirth that afford a vision seldom seen in Western culture since the Neolithic Age, when women embodied creation itself as well as the many manifestations of individual creation; yet, The Birth Project also shows birth as physical and real.

The Birth Project body of work, which was decades ahead of its time, is timely and relevant as society experiences a renewed interest in maternal and female bodies. In contrast to political and scientific developments as well as cultural norms, which re-emphasize women’s bodies as commodities, all of Chicago’s bodies are empowered female symbols. Her imagery encourages viewers to perceive women in unaccustomed ways and offers women powerful symbols with which to identify.

This exhibition reassembles approximately sixteen of the most exceptional Birth Project works, examining both past and present attitudes towards female empowerment and sexuality and underscoring Chicago’s redefinition of the terms art and craft. By presenting the works thirty-plus years after their creation, the exhibition emphasizes the role art can play in giving voice to the ongoing process of social change, particularly in regards to both reproductive choice and health care.

Judy Chicago’s Birth Project: Born Again is organized by Through the Flower in conjunction with the Albuquerque Museum of Art and the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, curated by Viki D. Thompson Wylder, Ph.D, and accompanied by a brochure.The exhibition is supported by the PMCA Board of Directors and PMCA Ambassador Circle. This exhibition is made possible by generous support from Karen Hillenburg, the Pasadena Art Alliance, the Southern California Committee of the National Museum of the Women in the Arts, Planned Parenthood Pasadena, and Jay and Penny Lusche.


About the Curator:

 

Dr. Thompson Wylder is a Judy Chicago scholar who has worked in the museum field for 25 years, primarily for the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts (FSU MoFA) where she curated and co-curated a number of exhibitions including the Judy Chicago retrospective titled Trials and Tributes (1999). The retrospective, which focused on Chicago’s works on paper, traveled to seven additional museums across the United States from 1999 to 2002 and was accompanied by a catalogue.

She also provided the essay for the exhibition catalogue published to coincide with the October 2002 survey of Chicago’s career at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. She published a number of articles on Chicago’s work including reviews of Chicago’s series Resolutions: A Stitch in Time, a review of Chicago’s program project at Western Kentucky University called At Home: A Kentucky Project, and of Chicago’s book, Kitty City: A Feline Book of Hours.

In her dissertation, Thompson Wylder examined the Dinner Party and the Birth Project from a cultural viewpoint outside the visual arts. Titled The Dinner Party and Birth Project as Religious Symbol and Visual Theology, it is included in Chicago’s papers at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe Institute/Harvard.

In her work at the FSU Museum of Fine Arts, Thompson Wylder negotiated the acquisition of six Birth Project works as well as a number of Birth Project studies and prints, making the FSU MoFA the second largest museum collector of Birth Project art.

As a professor, Dr. Thompson Wylder taught courses in Women’s Studies, as well as Museum Education, Art Historical Critical Writing, and Studio Art. From 2003 to 2014 she taught the core class for the FSU Women’s Studies Program titled Women in Western Culture. Her interview with Judy Chicago is included in the women’s studies text, Creating Women (2005), edited by Jean Bryant and Linda Bennett-Elder. She taught several individual special topics seminars on the work of Judy Chicago– the most recent in the Fall of 2016.

At the FSU Museum of Fine Arts Thompson Wylder combined her curatorial work with her position as Curator of Education. She inaugurated the education program at the FSU Museum in 1993 working to deepen the involvement of the schools and the community in the life of the Museum. As Curator of Education she offered numerous workshops/seminars for local and regional audiences but also for Florida and National Art Education Association audiences. In 2009 she co-authored an article for the International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, “The Story Project: A Model for Achieving Profound Inclusion in Museums.” She co-authored “Elementary Reflections: Case Study of a Collaborative Museum/School Curatorial Project” for a 2014 issue of the Journal of Museum Education.