Liquid Gold_ An Intimate Exploration of Breastfeeding and Black Motherhood

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Assistant Professor of Artwork and Luther Gregg Sullivan Fellow in Artwork Ilana Harris-Babou held an artist discuss within the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery for her exhibition “Liquid Gold.” A multi-media set up that focuses on the historical past of breastfeeding for Black moms, “Liquid Gold” will get its title from colostrum: a yellowish, nutrient-filled liquid that moms produce for a short while postpartum earlier than they start producing breast milk.

To contextualize “Liquid Gold” amongst her oeuvre, Harris-Babou first launched the viewers to “Choice Fatigue,” a video by which her mom tells viewers about her “magnificence routine” whereas making use of make-up. As she walked by the steps of her absurdist routine—which concerned protecting her face in Cheetos—Harris-Babou’s mom mentioned the toll of breastfeeding on the physique.

“Whenever you breastfeed, your life power is drained from you,” Harris-Babou’s mom mentioned. “It’s drained. It’s being taken away. It’s metaphysical, in actual fact. Ultimately I’ve been instructed that it doesn’t trigger that a lot of a bodily response in your half when it comes to ache, however my private experiences have been on the contrary. Your breasts change into very, very swollen and arduous, and tender. The nipples change into crusted generally and so they invert. It causes, for me, a frustration that I simply can’t cope with.”

As a prelude to “Liquid Gold,” Harris-Babou additionally launched “Lengthy Con,” one other challenge that examines how consumerism frames structural inequities as particular person choices. A video from the set up confirmed footage of Dr. Sebi, a controversial healer who claimed to have the ability to remedy most cancers and AIDs with herbs and an alkaline plant-based weight-reduction plan. By that includes Dr. Sebi, the artist highlights the false guarantees of the fashionable wellness motion which boils down a “wholesome” life-style right into a sequence of particular person selections whereas ignoring persistent inequalities.

Particular person selections as they relate to breastfeeding additionally lay on the coronary heart of “Liquid Gold.” Within the video portion of the set up, Harris-Babou’s mom and older sister mentioned their differing experiences with breastfeeding. Whereas the artist’s mom discovered the expertise of breastfeeding to be painful and determined to feed her daughter components, her older sister felt empowered, as doing so allowed her to save lots of her daughter’s life.

“I type of really feel the decision-making was extra about circumstances and it was extra of her well being situation made the choice for me,” Harris-Babou’s sister says within the video portion of the set up.

Within the video part of “Liquid Gold,” the disembodied voices of Harris-Babou and her relations might be heard as milk bubbles and froths on display. The foaming milk invitations viewers into Harris-Babou’s surreal world, an intimate area she harnesses to discover private anecdotes. In a single notably light-hearted second, Harris-Babou’s older sister remembers including chocolate syrup to her sister’s components, after which the artist refused to drink it another method.

Sound, particularly the singing of lullabies, performs an important function in connecting household tales of breastfeeding to the stark historical past of Black maternal breastfeeding. When conducting analysis for “Liquid Gold,” Harris-Babou reached out to her mom and sister to hum lullabies they remembered. The artist’s mom hummed “All of the Fairly Little Horses,” a lullaby her mom sang to her when she was younger. Throughout this time, Harris-Babou’s mom was rising up in a Connecticut mansion the place her mom cared for the family’s white kids. Many historians consider “All of the Fairly Little Horses” originated within the South, the place enslaved Black ladies sang this lullaby to white kids of their care whereas they have been pressured to depart their very own kids neglected. After studying concerning the tune’s historical past, listening to Harris-Babou and her relations sing “All of the Fairly Little Horses” was unsettling although nonetheless candy. By buzzing the lullaby, the artist and her household evoke the tune’s sophisticated previous and honor Black moms of the previous and current.

The sculptural portion of the set up solely enhanced the surreal world Harris-Babou fashions in “Liquid Gold.” In a passageway main as much as the video portion of the exhibit, ceramic objects Harris-Babou designed gleam on a canvas-covered desk. Amongst them have been nipple shields, glass objects that moms used to breastfeed within the Victorian period. Tubes snaking round and thru a few of these objects transport a white liquid that pumps out and in of a giant reservoir on the desk. On this evocation of breastfeeding, and all through the exhibit, Harris-Babou demonstrated her nice energy as an artist: to raise the atypical into unreal and thought-provoking dimensions.

“I take a viewer alongside that journey with me and go from one thing seeming acquainted and protected, to some sort of grand narrative seeming genuine, to realizing it’s completely bizarre,” the artist explains in promotional supplies for the exhibit.

Ilana Harris-Babou’s sensible exhibit is to not be missed. Go see it on the Zilkha Gallery earlier than it closes on March 3.

Ben Togut might be reached at