[Image Description: The image depicts a portrait of a black woman nursing her child, who has a light brown afro and appears to be about 2 years old. The woman is wearing a black tank and skirt, and the child she is cradling on her lap is naked. The heads of both mother and child are each framed by a gold halo.]
I am now the proud owner of this breathtakingly gorgeous piece of art.
The artist’s name is Kate Hansen, and this piece, “Gladys and Elizabeth,” is part of her Madonna and Child project. While there are several portraits in the series, this piece seems to be the only one that she is selling prints of (which I am thankful for, since this is the one that I like best by far, although the others are also beautiful).
There are several things about this portrait that speak to me, as a black mother and as a lactivist. First, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally a little frustrated with the very limited selection of non-white breastfeeding art that is out there. It also makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see a black mother-child dyad depicted so lovingly; I sometimes feel bombarded by the onslaught of images and stories in the media that frame black motherhood as being naturally dysfunctional, and therefore detrimental to not only the involved family members, but to society at large.
It’s also wonderful to see a child other than a newborn or infant nursing. Even among pro-breastfeeding literature and resources, there seems to be a shortage of images normalizing the act of nourishing or comforting a toddler at the breast. Take note the next time you see an ad or public service announcement that is geared toward encouraging parents to breastfeed – when is the last time you saw one of those PSAs featuring a contented toddler snuggling, nomming, or sleeping at the breast?
I also love that Elizabeth, the child, is sporting a natural ‘do; and while you wouldn’t expect to see a child her age with a perm anyway, it still seems somehow more refreshing and organic to see a black child with her hair completely unrestrained, untied, and allowed to fully blossom, without even a bow to distract from the power and beauty of her kinks. To me, Elizabeth’s nakedness reinforces the reality of her dependence and the necessity of her trust in her mother. It’s also nice to see a reminder that I’m not the only parent who nurses my child while either of us is in various states of undress.
The halos are a wonderful touch, especially to a woman like myself who has, in every other single piece of similar art, only ever seen halos framing the heads of very white women and their very white babies. Black motherhood, as I’ve mentioned before, is so frequently dismissed as dangerous – or, at best, inadequate – and to see it depicted here as not merely loving and desirable, but also holy…well, it gives me chills, even as person who identifies very strongly as an atheist.
Some day, when I have my own private practice, I intend for this portrait to be one of the first things that my clients see when they walk through the door. I can only hope that they will appreciate and take as much comfort from it as I do.
Edited to add: Thankfully, I was wrong about “Gladys and Elizabeth” being the only print available for sale. Here is Kate’s clarification:
I do offer prints of some of the other portraits, but I only offer a high quality giclee of this one. I just don’t have the money to make a file for the rest. The other prints are from digital photographs, so they can onl…y be printed up in a small size or they lose resolution.