THE MILKY WAY
We live in a time requiring artistic proposals supported by the complex universe of ideas which display essential aspects that must be revalidated because, of course, they have already been 'told'.
This world -the artistic world and the 'real' space we inhabit- needs to be steered, guided, towards a necessary path to lucidity. "Give me other mothers and I will give you another world", to quote Saint Augustine.
Maternity and breastfeeding have been present in equal measure in both prehistoric and classical art and in the most recent artistic manifestations. The vision suggested to us by photographer Isa Sanz in Alma Mater emerges enriched through an ideological, quasi-philosophical prism.
In a 'natural' way and with total impunity, the mass media are constantly displaying images loaded with violence and horror. In the midst of this scenario crowded with anaesthetised sensibilities, can there be a more effective and beautiful 'antidote' than to portray the act of love between mother and child, as embodied by breastfeeding?
In each project she embarks upon, the artist embodies 'WOMAN' and becomes every single woman she photographs. She reflects in her work aspects belonging to the sphere of the psyche while 'undressing' the feminine collective unconscious: that powerful energy accompanying all women since the dawn of humanity. Her portraits also call on the spiritual, an interesting 'area to be discovered' -in the sense of an existing 'inner' place in need of being illuminated rather than obviated.
“(…) This is the work of each human being: to go through earthly life searching for her or his own shadow, to bring light to it and to tread her or his own path of healing (…). The baby then becomes a pristine mirror for our most hidden aspects. That is why close contact with a baby should be a time not to be wasted at all.”
The being that surfaces from her hands 'hunting' eternity is that 'complete being' -with its light and its shadow- which is each one of us.
“(…) After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never otherwise have enjoyed (…).”
We are therefore in the company of an artist who journeys, with equal talent, through geographies oscillating between the intellect and the emotions.
A woman may decide to 'tiptoe' through her maternity or to use it to reach 'the experience of her lifetime.' These are two very different options, but each is as worthy of respect as the other. If she chooses to nourish the opportunity for transformation inherent in giving birth to a child, this path will most likely take her to greater awareness of the 'girl-woman-being' she has been, and to ride -from that same knowledge- towards that other WOMAN who wants to BE. Sanz's images contain all this.
She already started along this path in Sangro, pero no muero ("I bleed, but I do not die")-her previous and indispensable work- where she represented menstruation as the 'other' opportunity available for women to 'be reborn'.
“(…) A woman who realizes her cycle and the inherent energies also learn to earn a living that goes beyond the visible, maintains an intuitive link with the energies of life, birth and death, and feel the divinity within the earth and of itself. From this recognition of women is related not only to the visible and earthly but with invisible and spiritual aspects of their existence(…).”
Miranda Gray (3)
Alma Mater tells us of women who may not have resumed their menstruation yet -it is well known that breastfeeding can inhibit it- and of the wonderful journey intrinsic in that 'milky' link, that close connection in the mother-child dyad. Its main characters are females committed to breastfeeding to the degree their hearts and instincts dictate.
The breastfeeding woman 'overflows' with prolactin, an 'allied' hormone that together with oxytocin, the so-called 'love hormone', generate in her the appropriate feelings of wellbeing and gathering-in and the disposition to take on the task of being totally centred on the activity of child-rearing.
“(…) The mother who breastfeeds her baby has a special hormonal balance; she is under the effects of prolactin, the hormone essential for the breast to make milk “(…). When a woman is breastfeeding, all the effects of the "love hormone" are directed towards the baby, who becomes the object of her love; subordination makes her constantly accessible for any of the baby's demands (….)."
Michel Odent (4)
Milk is 'addictive', I would say equally for the mother and the child. Not without reason we hear comments such as "We've quit", "My baby has quit", "I'm trying to wean my baby off", etc., in many postnatal and child-rearing support groups, where expressions that seem to define an addiction to or a 'dependency on' something are used.
This is the real crux of the matter. We are dependent for a 'short-but-significant' phase that will help us to attain independence and harmony in our adult lives.
“(…) I believe that if we breastfed and really held our babies close, we would all grow up happier, and emotional lacks wouldn't be acted out as often as they are in the wars we fight in the outside world (…).”
Laura Gutman (5)
The mother who decides to carry on breastfeeding for longer than the 'standard' temporary amount of time disregards 'medical' advice; despite WHO recommendations to prolong breastfeeding beyond the first two years of life, in practice, many health 'professionals' go onto advise the introduction of 'cost-effective' bottle-feeding.
She is also 'confronting' ideas voiced in her own milieu where other women (friends, relatives, neighbours, etc.) who consciously decided not to extend breastfeeding, or who didn't even attempt it, try to 'evangelize' the 'neophyte', seeking perhaps to solve their own inner contradiction.
The mother who breastfeeds 'departs' from the everyday norm and reaches a space where she generates a close loving relationship in order to merge herself with 'her' baby, perceiving and satisfying the little one's sensations and needs as if they were her own.
In addition, the breastfeeding baby becomes a tit 'junkie': how could it be otherwise?! Mummy provides them, with her breasts, with all they need to become an independent and secure being resting upon their mother's love and miraculous contact. This artist's camera captures those essential moments in the development of a new being.
Isa Sanz is a "Milky Way" militant who places her lens at the service of something she strongly believes in. This sequence of images of mothers and infants is a manifesto, a fully grown statement of principles.
Through another woman's hand -an enchantress of the image-, her women are 'female warriors' who come into our view to remind us of what is magical and authentic in this life. Her photographs reach our retinas so that we don't get distracted from what is crucial, from what must survive and perpetuate itself for the good of our species.
Moreover, some artistic manifestations 'connect' with a specific 'voice', a voice that seems almost to 'dictate' the work that must be created, painted, written, photographed, etc. or, in short, conceived.
When granted the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 2011, the great Leonard Cohen said in his award ceremony speech: "(…) Poetry comes from a place that no one controls, that no one conquests." Cohen meant that poetry, songs, are born in a place that is unknown to us.
We shall conclude that the same thing happens with photographs; when an artist 'feels the call', what else can she do but dedicate herself body and soul to that unexplored stimulus and be creative?
This is what has happened to Sanz in 'her' Alma Mater, where the universe of motherhood and its connection par excellence 'have appeared' as the best of inspirations. She has connected with that 'vibration' and once she has developed -both intellectually and emotionally- what she wanted to portray, each of her models appeared almost as if by magic: women who walk steadily together with their infants along "The Milky Way".
Her work is sending a very clear message to us: "What you see here is sacred, the most primordial and absolute demonstration of love. My fingers photograph 'truth' so you don't forget about it."
Alma Mater: 'nurturing mother', mothers who nourish, in the broadest sense of the word. A fabulous photograph collection 'enriched' by Hera's drops of milk, by all those 'Heras' who have generously shared their privacy and allowed Sanz's lens to enter this 'gynoecium'.
They are mothers; it is universal love.
One last thing:
I have posed for it, because I believe in it: breastfeeding.
I have written for her, because I also believe in her: the artist.
Verónica Serrada is a writer and mother. She appears next to Coen in Alma Mater.
(Translation: Elena Sepúlveda ).
1 Gutman, Laura. La maternidad y el encuentro con la propia sombra, 2012
2 Sontag, Susan. On Photography, 1977
3 Gray, Miranda. Red Moon, 2009
4 Odent, Michel. Le bébé est un mammifère, 2011
5 Gutman, Laura. La maternidad y el encuentro con la propia sombra, 2012