Judy Chicago: Art Analysis: The Birth Project
Judy Chicago’s embroidery on silk piece, “Hatching the Universal Egg: Birth Power from the Birth Project”, created between the years 1980 and 1985, expresses the joys and naturalness of giving birth. This piece portrays a naked woman who is in the squatting position while in the process of giving birth. The woman’s head is bent over, obscuring her face, and her hands are cupped around the baby being born. From her vagina, beams of light are being projected while the rest of the art piece is black—the woman’s body is outlined with the color red, as well as a rainbow-like color spectrum.
I believe that this work is a feminist piece because it puts an incredibly strong focus on the subject of women’s bodies. Prior to the feminist movement, the education and celebration of women’s bodies was not acceptable to the public eye, therefore the topic of women’s sexuality was taboo (Freuh 192). It was believed that the female body was only for the process of reproduction, male objectivity and pleasure; any other perspective or purpose was deemed nasty, distasteful, and unmentionable. By creating “Hatching the Universal Egg” Chicago is highlighting the issue of sexuality and challenging our male dominated society’s view on the female body. When looking at the woman in the art work, I can see that Chicago has purposefully defined the muscles in her body—the calves, the arm muscles, etc.—in order to show that the woman is strong in her manner. Both feet are firmly planted on the ground, being tightly secured by the powerful foundation that is the woman body. The body of the woman is also not reflective of the images that are often seen in the media. Her body does not attempt to convey society’s vision of the perfect woman (toned arms, calves, perky breasts, slim sculpture, etc.). The image is purposefully designed this way in order to indicate that all women are not the same in size or body image. The beams of light that are being projected from her vagina is also an indication of sexuality because projects a positive viewpoint of female body parts, accepting them as natural and beautiful rather than unmentionable.
The issue of gender is also expressed in Chicago’s piece. In my opinion, I believe that the physically strong woman aids in debunking the socially constructed stereotype that all woman are weak. Also, the overall process of giving birth uplifts the fact that many women are strong—while discrediting the women are weak misconception—because of the pain, endurance, and strong-will that is necessary in birthing a child. The fact that the needle work piece has an all black background is significant to the issue of gender because it outlines the physique of the woman and directs all of the audience’s attention to every curve and shape of her body. By doing this, Chicago is promoting gender acceptance from a society that is highly male dominant.
“Hatching the Universal Egg” shows some relation to the class discussion about the assigned article “Birth as Performance Art?” by Jennifer Block. Block’s article discusses the controversial topic of whether publicly delivery is art or merely an action that objectifies the babies. The article also debates whether it is appropriate for women to publicly display their bodies in such a manner. In the article, Nancy Salgueiro, a chiropractor and childbirth educator asserts “There’s a fear around birth, fear of women’s bodies. It’s about a woman’s power over her own body, which for some reason has become taboo in our society” (Block 1). Similarly to Chicago’s Birth Project Gallery piece, Block is trying to showcase the importance of the female body as well as the natural process that it undergoes as a positive aspect of life; not something that should be hidden, but rather, celebrated.
At first glance, I interpreted the beams of light as the placenta fluid that accompanies the birthing process. The image, in my opinion, is an intense representation of the female body because it is so direct and in-your-face. With the combination of the dark color pallet and the body position of the woman, the art piece effectively makes its purpose known. I admired the way the body was outlined in red and a rainbow-color spectrum. The color red symbolizes sacrifice, which is appropriate for this image because the woman is sacrificing her body, using it as a conduit for new life. This woman is a representation of numerous women around the world. The rainbow color pattern symbolizes the different tones and shades of all women, since all women cannot be expressed in only black or white.
Looking at this image, I am able to depict the idea of strength because it resembles a common stance of a sumo wrestler. Sumo wrestlers are very strong focused beings that use their bodies as durable weapons and defense mechanisms. Knowing this, I am able to better understand how Chicago is attempting to broadcast women in a similar light. Through this piece, Chicago is taking back women’s bodies and providing a strong, joint female voice through a process that links all women together: labor. Similarly to how Adrienne Rich asserts that “We might still wish to claim our government, to say, This belongs to us—we, the people, as we are now”, Chicago’s piece serves as a voice to many women who are tired of the negative associations that are associated with women in regard to child birth and sexuality (Rich 101). This picture cries out in representation of countless women (pregnant or not) our bodies belong to us and we’ll own them with pride!
"Birth Project Gallery » Gallery » Judy Chicago." Judy Chicago. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2012. <http://www.judychicago.com/gallery.php?name=Birth+Project+Gallery>.
Block, Jennifer. "Birth Performance Art: Marni Kotak & Other Moms Who Share All - The Daily Beast." The Daily Beast. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2012. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/10/17/birth-performance-art-marni-kotak-other-moms-who-share-all.html>.
Frueth, Joanna. "The Body Through Women's Eyes." The power of feminist art: the American movement of the 1970s, history and impact. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1994. 190-207. Print.
"Judy Chicago's "Hatching the Universal Egg" - Visualizing Birth."Visualizing Birth - Using Images to Empower Pregnant Women in the Births of Their Babies. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2012. <http://visualizingbirth.org/judy-chicagos-birth-project>.
Rich, Adrienne. "Why I refused the Medal for the Arts." Arts of the possible: essays and conversations. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. 99-105. Print.
By: Alexis Gear