A woman who does the comb to someone who touches her pregnant belly, who goes alone to a gynecological check-up or who has a Superman or some shotguns stuck to her belly are the stars of some of the ironic images that make up the book ‘Maternasis’ that illustrator Núria Pompeia published in 1967. Now, more than half a century later, these images have been recovered in an exposition of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), available until September 26.
Obstetric violence: we give birth, we do not decide
The 78 drawings by the Barcelona artist, made in ink and combined with the technique of collageshare this exhibition with the works of three other contemporary artists (Roser Bru, Parvine Curie and Mari Chordà) who are opposed to a Renaissance painting of the Virgin of Good Hope.
Núria Pompeia, who died in 2016, was a pioneer in ironic illustration and a good example of this are these drawings, which make up a story about the process of a pregnancy from a female perspective. In fact, they were chosen by the MNAC as the common thread of the exhibition because pregnancy “has been one of the issues that women have often been dispossessed of”, since most of the works that portray this theme have been created by men.
The Barcelona museum acquired these originals with the intention of increasing the number of works by women in its post-war and second avant-garde art collection, which already includes pieces by artists such as Aurèlia Muñoz and Magda Bolumar.
The MNAC has scheduled a whole series of activities around this exhibition during the months that it will remain open. The first of them was a poetry recital held on May 18 and presented by the poets Anna Gual and Mireia Casanyes. In order to deepen the gaze of the creators on the experience of gestation, three dialogues have been planned coordinated by the writer Mercè Ibarz. The first of them, entitled ‘La Pompeia’, was held on June 8 with the intention of recalling the career and work of this artist.
“Núria Pompeia deserves all the recognition, memory and celebration”, says Mercè Ibarz, who also values “very positively” the incorporation of more women artists to the MNAC collection. Ibarz believes that Pompeia was a “pioneer in many ways”, but also a “polyhedral author”. “As well as drawing, comics and working as a journalist, she actively participated in the first Catalan Women’s Days, in May 1976”, recalls Ibarz.
The drawings that make up Maternasis are a good example of their author’s militancy in the feminist movement, as they show a woman who goes through all the phases of her pregnancy alone. Except for one of the pictures, in which she can be seen touching her bulging belly with an arm that is not showing her body, while she cuts the sleeve. Mercè Ibarz likewise highlights the fact that in her 78 drawings the woman has her mouth covered. “She is someone who cannot speak, who is prohibited from explaining what happens to her or her body during her pregnancy,” remarks the writer.
The second dialogue in the program of activities related to Maternasis, held on June 15, dealt with the relationship between art and militancy and included the participation of Mari Chordà and Elsa Plaza, members of the LaSal collective (1977-1990), a meeting place for feminist artists. In the MNAC exhibition, three works by Chordà can be seen in which she portrays herself during the months of her pregnancy in a very original way. The rounded shapes and the striking and cheerful colors occupy all the cardboard on which the artist paints, which recalls the playful spirit of Pop-Art. And, according to MNAC sources, these works evoke the “organic and physical mystery of gestation”.
Mercè Ibarz believes that “art is a good medium for anything, not just feminist militancy”. She also highlights this discipline as a means of expression for the creator who, in the case of the artists chosen for Maternasis, “decide to stage the theme of gestation”. Roser Bru, another of the artists present in the exhibition, painted in 1968 a work entitled ‘Woman with her parts’, where you can see a voluptuous woman reminiscent of prehistoric statuettes. The three small sculptures by French artist Parvine Curie also have a similar, even primitive, aesthetic.
In the same room and in contrast to the pieces by contemporary artists, the organizers have placed the painting Virgin of Good Hope, attributed to the Circle of Osona, and which was painted in the first quarter of the 16th century. The Virgin Mary is, according to the Christian conception, the example of a good woman, the selfless mother. However, it is not usual to see her represented in a state of pregnancy. Museum sources consider that this exceptionality “highlights how society tended to hide or despise a fundamental biological and creative phenomenon.”
The third and last dialogue motivated by this exhibition will take place on September 13 and will deal with spontaneous abortions, mourning for lost children and the need to speak and expose cases of obstetric violence. The artist Paula Bonet, the art critic and editor Amanda Cuesta, and the doctor Carme Valls will participate in it.