I was looking up "breastfeeding Artwork" online one evening when I found this photograph. I looked up her website right away, hoping to find out more about the "Audrey Samsara," which is the title of the artwork. The actual piece is a video of her baby Audrey nursing, falling asleep, waking to breastfeed and fall asleep again. It's a meditative and soothing loop, much like the Buddhist cycle of life and death for which it was named. I also noticed from the website that this artwork had been censored from an exhibition in New York, and I decided to contact the artist.
I spoke to Amy Jenkins on the subject and she told me she was surprised by the reaction to her artwork. The artist and mother had been asked to do a piece for designer Salvatore Ferragamo to display in their 5th Avenue art gallery. She was asked to use an item from the store as inspiration, and was granted full artistic license. Amy fell in love with a little pair of red shoes named "The Audrey," and felt that it was meant to be, since her own eighteen month old baby girl was also named Audrey.
Amy earned her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, but also spent some time in Florance Italy, where she completed a certificate in Fine Arts. She felt a kind of affinity for the italian background of the famous shoe designer, and agreed to create a piece for the art gallery upstairs. Her work is mostly photography and video installation; meditative and timeless loops involving themes of family, childbearing, relationships and discord. They are often both serene and disturbing; surreal yet familiar.
The video she created for them was a video of her daughter wearing the red shoes, nursed by a dark figure, so that the baby appears almost to float in mid air. Amy told me that this peice was especially meaningful to her; she called it a "tender record" of her breastfeeding experience, and was shocked by the reaction it incurred. The image evokes the timeless archetype of the Madonna and Child in a modern context. It also reflects the classical religious theme of the "Pieta," (a depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ.)
A few hours before the scheduled opening of the show in May 2004, Amy was informed that her work had been removed. An executive found the artwork to be "distasteful" and refused to exhibit it as planned. Amy and her family bravely attended the gallery opening, hoping to speak to someone and resolve the issue, but no one would speak to her about it. They would not explain why it was considered "distasteful," and nothing was done by way of apology. Amy herself wonders if it has something to do with the fashion aesthetic of the designer store- the fact that the breasts depicted in her work were functional rather than visual. She wonders if people are so used to seeing breasts used for marketing purposes and that the sight of breastfeeding makes people uneasy.
I personally also wonder if we as a society are unused to seeing the female nude from a female perspective. Breastfeeding is very much a feminine experience of the female body; it doesn't involve men or sex, and can be very personal, subjective and intimate. I would venture to guess that we as a society are unused to seeing the female nude from a female point of view; with a female gaze, if you will. The female nude as the subject rather than an object is unfamiliar to us visually, and invokes discomfort in the viewer. Perhaps the public, men and women alike, are used to seeing the female breast as an object of desire, and the breast from the inward, personal perspective of the woman doing the breastfeeding is unusual to us.