The Queer Birth Project
The Queer Birth Project is an interdisciplinary research project that seeks to promote inclusion by sharing the birth experiences of queer (LGBTQ+) people in the United States. The structure of this project is based on a re-envisioning of feminist artist Judy Chicago’s Birth Project (1980-85) and will include: a new national survey, a collection of visual artworks for exhibition, and a series of publications including a co-authored book. Original data collection will be paired with archival research at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Representation and inclusion around birth and family building plays a significant role in expanding cultural ideas, ensuring access to healthcare, and building community. Yet discussions of childbirth in western art and culture have long excluded the lives of lesbian women and non-conforming queer bodies and families. From DIY to IVF, scholarly and artistic attention to queer (LGBTQ+) childbirth and same-sex parenting is still relatively new, and there are unique physical, emotional, legal, and psychological challenges that are imposed by mainstream society.
Inspired by a new national survey, interviews, and archival research, The Queer Birth Project will consist of six collections of artworks for installation: 1) bodies, 2) identities; 3) family; 4) loss; 5) lactation; and 6) birth. Each collection is thematically based and will be installed as an exhibition unit, similar to the ways that artworks were disseminated for the Birth Project.
Image above: Judy Chicago Papers. The Birth Project. Exhibition files. Exhibition unit #68 Schlesinger Library, Harvard University
Image right: Yellow fringe fabricated for the Nasher Sculpture Center, May 2022
This project is a 5 year initiative (2022 - 2027) between Liss LaFleur (art) and Katherine Sobering (PhD, Sociology).
The first installation of The Queer Birth Project was recently held at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, TX, reflecting the experiences of dysphoria and queer bodies during and after childbirth. This exhibition featured four interconnected artworks: a suspended fringe mobile, two neon sculptures, and an immersive soundscape.
Survey responses to two questions were woven together into a libretto that was performed using a vocoder and digital synthesizer. Unlike the original Birth Project, which collected narratives of childbirth but did not publicly share their stories, the performed audio honors individual words and provides a presentness. Once installed, the listener is immersed in inclusive language with which to understand and communicate about queer birth and families.
Audio 1: Excerpt of “But they can’t steal my joy,” 2022
Excerpt text: I’m always surprised when people ask: whose baby? is it yours? is it your baby? are they from you? are they yours? is he yours? is she yours? Cause they think that a dyke like me could in no way be a mom
Image left and below: Growing bodies/babies, 2022 and It is strange to take up so much space, neon light installation, Nasher Sculpture Center
Image below: Birth fringe (yellow), 2022, suspended fringe mobile, Nasher Sculpture Center