"Mother" in neon lights.

Birth Rites Collection exhibition at Kent

What is the Birth Rites Collection?

Birth Rites Collection (BRC) is the first and only collection of contemporary artwork dedicated to the subject of childbirth, and is being hosted at the University. It is the first time it is being hosted and exhibited in such an environment, which was chosen to reflect the fact that birth, commonly perceived as a medical affair, is also a social and cultural event.

The collection was established by artist and curator Helen Knowles following a touring exhibition at the Glasgow Science Centre and Manchester Museum in 2008 and has since expanded to over 90 artworks, which include tapestries from the Birth Project (1981-83) by internationally renowned artist Judy Chicago, amongst many others. All artworks are acquired through artist donation or commission and includes multiple art forms, including photography, performance, sculpture, painting, print, wallpaper, drawing, new media and film.

Where to find the exhibition on campus

Thanks to the generous support of the University’s Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries, Division of Arts and Humanities, and Professor Darren Griffin from its School of Biosciences, artworks will be on display at a number of locations across the University campus. These include The Wigoder Building, part of Kent Law School, The Templeman Library, Grimond Building and Gulbenkian Arts Centre.

Professor Catherine Richardson, Director of the Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries, said: ‘The University of Kent is delighted to be hosting The Birth Rites Collection. This fascinating collection of art has the potential to spark debate, learning and awareness around issues as diverse as blockchain and reproductive technologies, the politics and practice of childbirth, and the relationship between art, health and social care.’

BRC has an established record of working within an academic context, having previously been housed at the University of Salford and King’s College, London, where the collection was used as a creative research tool to support interdisciplinary teaching practices.

Helen Knowles said‘We are excited to be moving the Birth Rites Collection to the University of Kent and embarking on a new partnership with an innovative and creative institution. It is important that the artworld moves outside of London and connects with wider communities across the UK. This opportunity to be based in the southeast of England is very prescient, in light of maternal health inequalities and the unequal access to contemporary art regionally. We hope to contribute to a wider debate on the subject of birth and engage with the people of Canterbury, Kent and beyond.’

Birth Rites Collection Summer School

As part of the collaboration with Birth Rites, Kent will also host a Birth Rites Collection Summer School this September. The unique programme of lectures, workshops, seminars and one-to-one tutorials will introduce participants to the collection and facilitate a dialogue between them, their practice and the artworks.

Led by Helen Knowles and Hermione Wiltshire, artist and Co-Head of the Photography Programme at the Royal College of Art, the course will appeal to a range of individuals – from midwifes and health professionals to artists and policy advisors. Bursaries this year are offered to staff and students at the University of Kent and KMMS only. See more information about the summer school.