I won a prize!
Sheffield Hallam University’s Brightest Spark competition is judged by industry professionals as to whom they think is the best of graduating students within the Sheffield Institute of Arts.
I was chosen as the winner in the MA Design category, with the decision made by Patrick Walker from Du.st.
There’s no exhibition of work this year sadly, but I get sent a certificate and everything!
Read all about my project here.
I won a raffle earlier on this summer as well, I should play the lottery.
In order to evaluate the response to my work, in mid May 2013, I displayed it within the University. The work was assembled to create a breastfeeding room ‘set up’ complete with play mat and furniture for toddlers to play on.
I invited all the people I had spoken to about my work and encouraged new mothers to come along via Facebook. The feedback was really interesting. Although I had feedback forms and an online survey, it was face to face conversations from which I gained the most information.
Many women had no idea how much help was available but those who had problems found the support invaluable in their continuation of breastfeeding. No one was shocked by the amount of crafted breasts on show; in fact they were greeted with surprise humour and smiles.
“For me it was a very playful way to catch attention that is essential for a campaign to succeed. We live in a sexualised society, but these breasts did not evoke any sexual image.” –feedback from visitor
I was particularly pleased to have several mothers happy enough to feed their children in the space itself whilst their older siblings were entertained with the wall of boobs.
One respondent to the online survey suggested there could be more toys, I would like to take this further in the future, and design some more breast inspired toys plus a black and white pattern book for babies.
Many people commented favourably on the pattern, both in the large-scale format of the wallpaper, and the screen, without realising it was representing breasts.
My work was used (for free) by Nawal (El-Amrani, the Infant Feeding co-ordinator for the council) for the annual National Breastfeeding Awareness Week’s picnic in the Winter Gardens this year.
Initially she had wanted to commission me to make the breast shaped dome tent, but had her budget cut to zero.
Nawal suggested seeking funding to make the tent, and she may have been able to find enough money to rent it from me, but this proved impossible too. She has pointed out to me that other councils and organizations may be interested in renting it for similar events in other cities so I may well do this in the future.
As part of the National Breastfeeding Week my work was displayed in the Winter Gardens in Sheffield City centre. A breast feeding picnic had been organized and my work acted as a backdrop. Babies and toddlers enjoyed playing with the knitted breasts. There were many breastfeeding workers in attendance talking to passers-by and new Mothers. The picnic gained a great deal of attention from members of the public who were passing by, due to the wall of boobs as well as the many women who were breastfeeding.
The picnic featured in the Sheffield Star’ newspaper but interestingly it omitted to include any photographs of women breastfeeding. As the event was national it attracted many articles in the national press. A great many of these were very disparaging about militant breastfeeding advocates. This reiterated the point that all breastfeeding support needs to be non- judgmental and inclusive.
Again the feed back garnered from talking to new Mothers was positive with regard to making more breastfeeding room/areas feel fit for purpose.
There was a Breastfeeding World Record Attempt in Barnsley (part of the Big Latch On) this summer to try and get the most amount of women breastfeeding in one place. As this happened in a park, this would have been the ideal place to take the tent. I took along the ‘Pop-Up Restaurant’ sign and had this above where I was feeding.
I also took the sign to Sheffield’s Tramline’s music festival, and asked a friend to hold the sign above me as I fed Billy Bob. I think this might have looked slightly strange!
Another set of work embarked upon which I would like to pursue further is the ‘pop up’ restaurant sign placed in various outdoor and unusual places. I designed and made a Las Vegas style sign complete with LED lights. This was suitable to be transported and displayed wherever women choose to breastfeed. For example park benches, train carriages and beaches. This follows the current trend of pop up restaurants and shops in London. Photographs of the sign in these locations could be used as a print campaign. Removable stickers could also be produced to be applied where women have found themselves feeding.
So, I have come to the end of my masters degree in Graphic Design. I have also been pregnant and had a baby since I updated this blog. This is relevant, as it shaped the last, major project of my course.
This project began life rather organically. All the work undertaken during the course of this Masters degree has had several things in common. The themes throughout have been based in the domestic environment, encouraging the audience to feel comfortable either in surroundings familiar to them, or reclaiming space that is not theirs. And…most crucially, most of my work has involved craft and making.
My work has always had a light hearted and fun element, with a focus on inclusivity.
The actual ‘cause’ that this project eventually championed was not something that was initially on my radar when I the course began.
Circumstances dictated that change of focus. My fine art background ensured that the end result was arrived at albeit by circuitous means.
My favourite ‘piece’ from previous projects was a pair of silicone breasts. These were made simply because they would look and feel nice to hold. As an extension of the module, which involved manufacturing giant eyes for people to have in their homes, to encourage feelings of safety, the boobs were also there to engender comfort and security (but I was also aware they would be sexual and fun in a Benny Hill kind of way).
I liked how the silicone and wooden breasts I made, took on a much more benign and tactile existence when removed from the more realistic and photographic image of breasts. They became something which could be seen in public, rather than being pornographic and hidden from young eyes.
Children love breasts: they brought them sustenance and comfort as babies.
Another major factor was the fact that I enjoyed making the breasts, both in process and design. Choosing the shapes and colours was very satisfying.
Deciding the context in which to carry this forward was another natural decision. In July 2012, I found out I was pregnant and began to see my own breasts in an entirely different context.
My boobs became a tool of the trade and a way of making my child thrive; the most natural thing in the world without which the human race would not exist.
As it dawned on me that my body was no longer my own to do with as I wished, attention turned to my relationship with my breasts and the job they were about to embark upon.
After speaking to friends and family I realised that breastfeeding has been a dwindling activity in the western world over the past thirty odd years.
The current child bearing generation appears to not see breastfeeding as an essential requirement of motherhood. The proliferation of formula feeding and the saturation of marketing (although illegal to advertise breast milk substitutes) have encouraged mothers to enjoy the benefits of formula feeding, rather than the benefits of breast feeding for their child. Whereas an infant two hundred years ago may have died without breast milk, nowadays a mother can quite easily feed using formula and a bottle.
This issue is strangely under represented on the national set of ‘awareness’ campaigns. Sheffield council has provided a year on year decrease in funding for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week with 2013 receiving no funding whatsoever.
The reasons why women choose not to breastfeed are many and complex. Many women have decided not to breastfeed before the birth of their babies, and a great deal stop after the first week or two due to problems faced.
There is a huge amount of mother’s guilt associated with breast feeding and feeling of inadequacy plus fears of failure to continue. Anecdotally, many mothers I have spoken to, regret giving up. The major reason cited was being unable to find the support to continue through problems.
As a middle class thirty something, statistically I was much more likely to initiate breastfeeding, and also feel comfortable finding and asking for advice. The social demographic most unlikely to initiate breastfeeding is the white working class women aged between 16 and 24. Is this the group that I should choose to focus on?
After interviewing specialist midwives and public health workers it became apparent that many women of this social group saw their breasts as sexual objects and did not feel that they owned their breasts. Rather, they needed to be preserved for the male gaze. Many of these women were not breastfed themselves and their peers predominately bottle-feed.
One of the midwives interviewed stated that teenagers could be persuaded to change their views on things whilst their minds are malleable to new suggestions. Is it possible to change their minds and make breast feeding seem natural and normal? Is it the whole family who needs educating rather than just the mother?
Anecdotally, many women not planning to breastfeed are able to change their minds on the subject during this first encounter.
From personal experience as a pregnant woman, every single antenatal appointment involves the subject of breastfeeding. All pregnant women are made aware of the benefits to the child of breastfeeding.
The most high profile campaign in the last 10 years has been the Hub’s ‘Be a Star’ campaign. This took young mothers and gave them makeovers and had photo shoots with them breastfeeding. This appealed to the girls craving celebrity culture. Although striking and at first look, successful, initiation rates dropped when the campaign finished.
Other countries use slightly more graphic imagery to address this problem. There is still a fear of showing the breasts in marketing campaigns that involve breastfeeding. I also visually researched one hundred breastfeeding logos to see common themes, colours and representations of the female form.
I have decided to use Sheffield as an area of study on both breastfeeding initiation rates and methods used to encourage breastfeeding. UNICEF, the world authority on breastfeeding, has granted Sheffield ‘Baby Friendly’ status. This has been achieved by providing training to all health care professionals involved in maternity care. Sheffield has a massive range of support for breastfeeding mothers…if you know where to look.
Sheffield is a leader when it comes to breastfeeding support in the UK, and can be used as an exemplar of successful rates of continuation of breastfeeding in the north of England. Sheffield has a 78% initiation rate for breastfeeding mothers. Although this drops dramatically after six weeks, this is a national problem rather than a local one.
When in the Jessop’s Wing of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, after the birth of my son Billy Bob, I was approached by every midwife on duty, anciliairy staff and visiting peer support workers offering help with breastfeeding. In the delivery suite, all women are encouraged to breastfeed, even if it is only whilst in hospital so the child benefits from colostrum, the first incredibly nutritious milk.
With all of this knowledge of breast feeding initiation along with knowing the reasons why women choose not to breastfeed at all, what is it that I think I can achieve with my work, and who exactly am I appealing to?
Obviously as a graphic designer you work on briefs outside your own awareness/ comfort zone. Your job is to communicate and include audiences with whom you do not share a common language.
The audience for my work are those who do not initiate breastfeeding to begin with. Perhaps they are the ones most in need. If we could change their minds, even momentarily, we could make sure more babies have colostrum if nothing else.
I am aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding both to my baby and myself. I come from a stable domestic set up, I was breastfed and I want to breastfeed. But I still need help.
I have identified three areas to focus on:
- Normalising breastfeeding
- Helping mothers find support
- Helping mothers find safe and comfortable places to breastfeed.