We are thrilled to have a guest blog from artist Lisa Creagh, illustrated with her powerful photographs, to wrap up #WBW2021
Her work focusing on mothers and breastfeeding brings out the importance of everyone in society understanding, supporting and protecting breastfeeding.

Holding Time is an ongoing work designed to create greater cultural awareness of the needs of breastfeeding mothers. The work has a conceptual framework as the central theme is motherhood and time. The centerpiece is a three screen installation of animated portraits of mothers alongside a timepiece which grows as time passes.

The project is multi-channel, multi platform and operates city to city. By working with academics, health professionals and grassroots networks it is a large piece of socially engaged feminist art that is intended to bring about meaningful change in UK breastfeeding policy. 

In Coventry I was commissioned by Warwick University to create a piece combining a grid of mothers with audio about their breastfeeding experiences. It was understood that I may not manage to actually capture Coventry mothers, given the extraordinary circumstances of 2020. So i devised a project that could run without human contact, hoping that the conditions would eventually change. Mothers were recruited via social media and through a network of partners from the Coventry Family Health and Lifestyle Services. I met the infant Feeding Team in August 2018 and received great enthusiasm from them and one of their partners, a project called MAMTA that works with BAME mothers who wish to breastfeed.

When the call for participants went out, we had an overwhelming response! In February I  interviewed sixteen mothers via zoom, suggesting the storytelling workshops (also zoom) to those I felt would benefit. Not everyone took up this offer but those that did reported great benefits from having the chance to discuss openly with other mothers the issues they had faced in establishing breastfeeding. Rachel New, the radio producer and writer who devised and ran the workshops on behalf of Creative Lives did an amazing job of really getting the group to face each other and themselves, to pull out the wealth of experience they had between them and craft this into written pieces.

Breastfeeding is such a complex issue and so poorly understood. Mothers came from a wide range of backgrounds – young, older, experienced, new, British, South Asian, and African, reflecting the incredible diversity and cultural richness found in Coventry which has been welcoming people from across the world for many decades. I was hoping to bring out the contrast between mothers who had inherited an unbroken cultural inheritance of breastfeeding vs those, like me who had needed to start from scratch.

I waited hopefully for the restrictions to lift and finally on April 12th 2021 it was legal again to set up a photo studio. With the help of some local talent and the support of a wonderful arts organisation, Artspace, I was finally able to set up a temporary photo studio in Coventry in early May. Now all the mothers I had met only virtually started to appear every day at the door in 3D! it was a wonderful experience to meet them all finally, albeit under strict Covid safety conditions. 

By now the Storytelling group had a WhatsApp group and were organizing park meetups. We quickly set up a WhatsApp group for everyone and once the week was over I went into a supercharged post production period. My commission and proposal to Arts Council England had not included new animation but I felt it would be a travesty to the mothers who had shown such support and commitment to the project, to show mothers form another city in the final show. On my last night in the Premier Inn (I spent a lot of time in the Premier Inn) I decide I could make a new piece in time for the show.

It as an ambitious plan but I feel tremendously proud of the work that came out of Coventry: 12 new animated portraits, one large group portrait, sixteen VLOGS still being released onto Youtube channel and a legacy of seven still images hanging permanently in the labour ward where each mother gave birth, at UHCW in Coventry to inspire new mothers in the city to listen to their stories and if they can, follow them on the journey of breastfeeding.

Here’s a selection:

Hannah and Jacob, 2021

Hannah had a very premature baby who, at 25 weeks, was lucky to survive. She expressed for many months until finally she was given the go ahead to feed Jacob on the breast. Her story is an epic journey of resilience, stamina and self belief with some real insight into what mothers under this tremendous pressure need to keep going: https://youtu.be/P22EgsAIvJQ

Rayyan and Yusuf, 2021

Rayyan is a typical Coventry mother, although she would point out she was actually born in Hull…she lives in a tight knit family who supported her through some incredibly dark days after the birth of her first child. She came through it and is now tremendously positive about her experience and the support she received from family and the local maternity team: https://youtu.be/wrfbEAFB2HI

Mel and Harley, 2021

Mel is breastfeeding her third child and talks about finally feeling confident enough go to baby groups. She is very funny and I think we can all relate to her description of herself when she was a new mother and was too embarrassed to feed in public, even when she had the support of her mother by her side: https://youtu.be/vNnmPHN8Jj0

Hema and Devani, 2021

Hema was one of the first mothers I met in Coventry, back in 2018 at a Big Latch event. She is a tremendous role model as someone who came through huge physical challenges to breastfeed and eventually trained as a peer to peer mentor and is now supporting many mothers in the Coventry Gujarati community. It was fascinating hearing about how Hema sought help when she needed it and is now there to help others: https://youtu.be/5Ku97-Vig3k

Emilie and Jean, 2021

Emilie is not alone in finding herself surprised to be ’still’ feeding her child aged three. I found it really sweet how she says that it wasn’t the plan (but there never really was a plan….). I meet so many mothers who have fed full term doing this work and I’m always fascinated to hear their insights as it really is a journey of self discovery, as much as learning about your child and their needs: https://youtu.be/i4rsRJBy3wg

Follow online on #BreastfeedingBuddy

Holding Time Cheshire and Merseyside: https://holdingtime.org/cam/

https://www.lisacreagh.com/holding-time-1

www.youtube.com/c/HoldingTime

@TheHoldingTimeProject

@holdingtimeproject

Improving Me https://www.improvingme.org.uk/about-us/

Improving Me

The NHS Cheshire and Merseyside’s Women and Children’s Partnership proudly announce the Holding Time Project launch and call for participants

Women are invited to express an interest in any of the following:

1. Mother-talk with Lisa: Interview with the artist about your breastfeeding experience for a 5 minute VLOG to be distributed on social media channels and Youtube. 16th September through to 28 October 2021 For examples see www.youtube.com/c/holdingtime

2. Group Mother-speak:  Zoom storytelling workshops led by the experienced BBC Producer, Rachel New over six weeks starting on 16th September through to 28 October 2021. These collaborative writing workshops will be delivered in partnership with BBC Radio Merseyside’s community broadcast team. For previous examples listen here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09g27bg

3. A Breastfeeding portrait: Feed your baby whilst being photographed by the artist in a Covid safe temporary photographic studio during a 1.5 hour session. These portraits will be the basis of animations and stills for a permanent display. January 2022

Mothers who wish to participate should fill out the form at:

http://www.holdingtime.org/CAM

Open to all mothers who have breastfed for any amount of time

Lisa Creagh studied Fine Art and Art History at Goldsmiths College, London. She received a Masters in Photography from Brighton University in 2009. Her work is collaborative in nature: as a producer and curator she has delivered large-scale photographic projects. ‘The Instant Garden’, begun in 2008 was awarded a development grant by The Arts Council of England in 2010 and is still exhibited widely. 
 
Holding Time is a Feminist art piece, which evolved from Lisa’s own difficulties in breastfeeding documented on the project website. Lisa created Holding Time in 2016 to examine the cultural barriers to breastfeeding, listen to the experiences of other mothers and drive change. 
 
Holding Time is a co-created, participatory arts project comprising of videos of conversations and portraits of breastfeeding women, to confront and breakdown the structural and cultural barriers many women face, including stigma about body image. 
www.lisacreagh.com/about

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