Acts of Creation

Hettie Judah


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Thames & Hudson Ltd
4 July 2024
ISBN: 9780500027868
272 pages

From the publisher

'Hettie Judah’s enthralling and important book expands a male-centred art history to include mothers as subjects and symbols, makers and myths' Jennifer Higgie

'One of the most electrifying and important books I have ever read. Hettie Judah takes us on a rich, comprehensive, generative, beautifully written journey through the works of art that have made the invisibility of real motherhood and maternal subjectivity visible. Every sentence and work crackles and sparks. I didn't want it to end. Stunning, urgent and extremely inspiring. We all need this book' Lucy Jones, author of Matrescence

'An important and eye-opening book grounded in Judah's extensive experience and research. I knew some artists in this book already, but didn't know many others, and this is a book I will keep close and refer to time and time again. As a writer and as a mother, this is personal too. It is time motherhood comes out of the margins and we see, hear and talk about the extensive invisible labour, joy, pain of mothering. This book is a much-needed addition to the canon' Dr Pragya Agarwal

Exploring maternity through the work of artists from prehistory to the present day, Acts of Creation addresses the abiding mother-shaped hole in art history.

Long taboo, lived experiences of motherhood – and all that accompanies it – are now the subject of urgent discussion. Acts of Creation: On Art and Motherhood delves into the joys and heartaches, mess, myths and mishaps of motherhood through over 150 artworks, from ancient goddess artifacts to contemporary interpretations of pregnancy in the present.

While the Madonna and Child archetype has dominated Western art, we rarely encounter art about real motherhood, in all its raw, unfiltered complexity. Renowned author and curator Hettie Judah examines how shifting ideals of motherhood have been constructed and promoted through visual culture. Moving into the 20th and 21st centuries, it also looks at how women artists – among them Barbara Hepworth, Jenny Saville, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Betye Saar, Suzanne Valadon, Louise Bourgeois, Carrie Mae Weems – have worked to subvert these ideals and reclaim the narrative. Women have long been told that they cannot be both an artist and a mother: here the artist mother is instead addressed as an important cultural paradigm. Acts of Creation explores lived experience of motherhood – and of not becoming a mother – offering a complex account that engages with ongoing concerns around gender, caregiving and reproductive rights.

Published to coincide with the acclaimed Hayward Gallery touring exhibition of the same name, Acts of Creation is an engaging, thought-provoking and richly illustrated must-read on the evolving discourse on motherhood, offering a fresh perspective that challenges conventions and inspires change.