Real Families

Susan Golombok


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Paul Holberton Publishing Ltd
15 October 2023
ISBN: 9781913645519
176 pages

From the publisher

What is a family? And how is family experienced? These questions, explored through artists' eyes, are at the heart of the exhibition, Real Families: Stories of Change, a collaboration between the Fitzwilliam Museum and the University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research. The book provides a catalogue of the exhibition in four sections, containing twelve illuminating essays that discuss the concept of the family.

Real Families: Stories of Change focuses on art produced in the past 50 years, a period of significant change in how families are created and structured, with historical works woven into the exhibition to examine what is genuinely new, and what has remained the same, about the family. The catalogue includes reproductions of paintings, photography and sculpture.

In the first section, 'What is a Family?', artists portray new forms of family, including families formed by assisted reproduction and families with LGBTQ+ parents, as well as families affected by divorce, adoption and infertility. The works prompt viewers to consider stereotyped beliefs about what makes a family and society's prejudice against childlessness.

Second, 'Family Transitions' starts with artists' representations of motherhood, followed by an examination of the positive role that fathers play. Works on siblings speak to the dynamic and intense relationships that exist between siblings, and those on grandparents and grandchildren highlight the benefit of having each other in their lives. Artists also convey their complex feelings about their ageing parents.

'Family Dynamics' explores positive and negative relationships between couples, parents and children, and extended family, with works that foreground affection and rejection, comfort and conflict, enmeshment, estrangement and not fitting in. The works also examine the wider social, cultural and political influences on family relationships. Finally, 'Family Legacies' highlights the importance to many people of a sense of connection and belonging. This section explores the transmission of family from one generation to the next through genetic inheritance, social and cultural practices, language and objects, which can forge emotional connections and give rise to family memories.