Papers, presentations and workshop proposals are sought for ‘Reimagining Birth’: An International Research Symposium on the Visual Culture/Art/History/Design of Childbirth in the 21st century. This symposium will be held at University College Dublin on 2-3 July 2013. The deadline for abstracts is 12 April.

How has childbirth been portrayed/represented/imagined in the worlds of art and medicine? What do these images tell us about our cultural relationship with birth?

This interdisciplinary research symposium, developed and hosted by UCD PhD Candidates Doreen Balabanoff and Martina Hynan, will provide an opportunity for contemporary critical debates into the visual culture of childbirth and will consider how our cultural representations of birth influence our approaches to childbirth itself.

Central to the vision of this project is the ambition to build connections between interested parties, providing a forum for transcending current knowledge silos and contributing to innovative change in this important personal/cultural domain of human experience.

To this end, papers, presentations and workshop proposals are sought that focus on interaction among delegates. The invitation is open to visual cultural theorists, historians, feminists, midwives, medical practitioners, social scientists, writers, artists, designers, architects, etc. The organizers hope this symposium stimulates the sharing of papers that explore perceptions of birth experience, culture and environment – how birth has been seen in the past, how it has come to be seen contemporaneously through diverse perspectives and how the future of childbirth might be imagined/re-imagined, through visual forms of representation and expression.

While the organizers welcome traditional academic papers, they also encourage creative methods of delivery that may include performance and visual arts approaches.

There will be two ‘panels’ initiated by the convenors, with the invited participants. Each panel will focus the discussion of the day around one of two large ‘arenas’ of interest:

1) Birth: Visual Image/Visual Culture – led by Martina Hynan. This panel will consider representations/perceptions of the lived experience of childbirth in visual culture from 18th century onwards and contemplate the ways birth was/is portrayed in art historical, non-medical contexts, and the contribution that medical professionals have brought to an evolving visual culture of childbirth and the birthing body.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

Representations of birth in art; image and body politics of childbirth; birth and feminist art practice; visualizing birth in medicine; birth as liminal experience; censored/censoring images of birth; visual readings of birth in Ireland; portrayals of birth interventions; maternal visions; images of the Maternal; imagining/re-imagining the Maternal Taboo; symbolic/images of the reproductive cycle; images of fertility and reproduction; folk customs, cultural rituals of fertility and reproduction locally and globally; mythologies of the birthing body; religious representations/discourse of reproduction; imagining gender and biomedicine of childbirth; visual technologies of/for the birthing body; imagery of the “changing” body: rebirth and metamorphosis; obstetric museums – focus and design; birth anatomy – anatomical representations of childbirth.

2) Birth: Visual/Sensory Environment – led by Doreen Balabanoff. This panel will address the potency of the visual and sensory environment and its affect/effect on the birth process, considering phenomenological aspects of physical and ephemeral architecture as mind/body experience in space/form/time. The evolution of the birth environment: home to hospital to birth centre; ‘labour ward’ to ‘private labour and delivery room’; ‘natural’ to ‘industrial’; ‘homely’, ‘fashion-conscious’ or ‘five star’. The focus is not limited to the labour room – consideration of birth environment includes a more comprehensive set of spaces.

Presentation, papers and proposals might include (but are not limited to) the following topics:

Representations/visualisations of imagined or actual historic, contemporary or future birth spaces/places/architectures; planning, systems and political stances that impact birthspace design; philosophical/theoretical approaches to re-imagining future birth environments; focus on the newborn and psychophysiological experience; natural and artificial lighting: physical and psychophysiological implications for birth processes and experiences of mother and newborns; environmental colour relevant to birth spaces; visual, olfactory, auditory and other sensory/multi-sensory or cross-modal factors relevant to birth experience; materiality and tactility studies on birth experience/environment; design and use of furnishings for birth environment; temporality of birth experience and spatial attributes; narratives from participants, whether mothers, partners, midwives, nurses, doctors related to environment; poetic evocations – literary writings about birth which evoke images of birth environment; feminist approaches to architecture as space/form/time relevant to birthspace; medical and social sciences studies of birth experience/space; consciousness studies related to birth and labour; accommodating diversity in multicutural settings; respecting indigenous and local cultures and ‘genius loci’; biophilic and salutogenic approaches to birthplace architecture

Submissions for 1) panel: Birth: Visual Image/Visual Culture should be sent to Martina Hynan at Please use Reimagining Birth as the subject line.

Submissions for 2) panel: Birth: Visual/Sensory Environment should be sent to Doreen Balabanoff at Please use Reimagining Birth as the subject line.

Abstracts should be 500 words or less, together with a short bio of 250 words or less. Include a cover sheet with name, institution, department, and contact information. Document should be submitted as a PDF.

Deadline: Abstracts and bios should be submitted on or before 5pm, Friday 12 April, 2013. Notification Friday 10 May 2013.


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