Exhibition challenges public perceptions of breastfeeding

A Sunderland graduate is hoping to challenge public perceptions of breastfeeding with an exhibition.

Artist Leanne Pearce’s exhibition has been created to celebrate and normalise breastfeeding with a series of powerful portraits, which attempt to capture the loving, tender relationships and growing bond between a mother and child.

Taking place at the University of Sunderland’s Design Centre from April 19 to May 6, the exhibition Breastfeed evolved from Leanne’s own personal experience of breastfeeding her two daughters.

The mum explained: “The subject matter is a charged one and people feel passionately about it.

“The media are constantly focusing on negative stories which seem to forget the functional, maternal and nutritionally precious value of breastfeeding. Breasts have become sexualised and it is almost deemed abnormal to breastfeed, especially in public.

“I feel this series would contribute to redressing the balance of the natural act of feeding children with their mother’s milk.

“There are lots of mothers who proudly feed their young.

“The diversity is displayed within these paintings.

“There are young mothers, black mothers and mothers feeding older children and indeed feeding two children at once.

“The work acknowledges this diversity and challenges our perceptions about the subject.”

When she started breastfeeding her first daughter Leanne says she became passionate about the subject and reflected this in her artwork.

It began with just one self-portrait of her feeding her daughter and it has since grown.

She has been working now for more than six months on the series.

Leanne, 34, from Newcastle, says: “I have breastfed both my young daughters and although initially my path was a rocky one it was also precious and irreplaceable.

“During the time I was feeding my second daughter, Boadicea, I kept peering down at her as she looked up at me and it was this connection that compelled me to create a piece of art.

“I then began to painting other mums and their little ones.”

Ms Pearce added: “Breastfeeding mothers are strong, powerful, nurturing humans and at some points fragile.

“Each mother and baby partnership has their own unique story which can change and evolve quite organically or indeed be disrupted.

“Breastfeeding is often not plain sailing and many people feel vulnerable during this time.”

Leanne has specialised in portraiture since early 2000, during which time she has developed a fresh and dynamic approach to capturing the likeness and character of the sitter.

Since successfully completing her first degree in fine art at Northumbria University, Leanne has been commissioned to paint many faces, some of which appear regularly in the public arena.

She gained a place in the semi-finals of the ITV show A Brush With Fame in which she painted a whole host of celebrities including Tanni Grey-Thompson and Paul Nicholas.

She was also asked to capture on canvas the faces of Cheryl Tweedy and Ashley Cole for a wedding gift.

Leanne broadened her artistic horizons some 10 years ago when she undertook a second degree in Graphic Communications at the University of Sunderland.

This gave her work a new perspective and influenced her direction of travel.

“I have always wanted to do something gorgeous,” Ms Pearce said.

“I’d like to bring attention to this subject. Breastfeeding is a really complex, lovely issue which I feel passionate about. Breasts have been sexualised and it’s hard to differentiate between something sexual and natural,” she added.

Leanne is in talks with the Royal Victory Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle who have been supportive of her project.

She is also hoping to run breastfeeding workshops.

Dr Manny Ling, Senior Lecturer in Design at the University of Sunderland, said: “We are delighted to welcome back Leanne and to host her exhibition at the Design Centre Gallery.

“It is always heart-warming to know that our alumni have gone on and do wonderful things.”

During the exhibition, Leanne will host a Q&A session on Thursday, April 21, 5.30pm-6pm, which is open to University of Sunderland Alumni, as well as members of the public.

If you wish to attend, contact the Alumni team on 0191 5153664, or email alumni@sunderland.ac.uk

For more information about Leanne’s work, click here.

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