(un)hid­den un­cov­ers jour­ney of moth­er­hood

The Niagara Falls Review - - Local - CH­ERYL CLOCK Ch­eryl.Clock@ ni­a­garadailies.com 905-225-1626 | @Stan­dard­_Ch­eryl

One Mon­day in Jan­uary, at al­most 40 weeks preg­nant, she at­tended a five-hour class at Brock Univer­sity.

The next day she gave birth. A week later, on the fol­low­ing Mon­day, she was back at school with baby Oc­tavia.

And two months later, Am­ber Lee Williams, a vis­ual arts stu­dent, has pulled to­gether a year’s worth of work in the ex­hi­bi­tion “(un)hid­den,” an ex­plo­ration of moth­er­hood, fam­ily re­la­tion­ships, loss and the in­evitable pas­sage of time, in the gallery of the Mar­i­lyn I. Walker School of Fine and Per­form­ing Arts.

The show runs un­til April 28. Williams, 30, in­stalled the show with her two-month-old baby nes­tled in a sling.

The show, the cul­mi­na­tion of her in­de­pen­dent study class, was in­spired by a fas­ci­na­tion with hid­den mother pho­tographs, a type of pho­tog­ra­phy com­mon in the Vic­to­rian Era when ba­bies and young chil­dren were pho­tographed with their moth­ers present, but hid­den.

Early cam­eras re­quired long ex­po­sures times and moth­ers needed to hold their ba­bies still

so the fi­nal im­age wouldn’t be blurred.

Of­ten, the moth­ers would ei­ther be cropped out of the pho­to­graph or a cur­tain would be draped over their heads and the baby placed in their lap.

In­trigued, Williams be­gan col­lect­ing hid­den mother pho­tos, buy­ing them on­line. A se­lec­tion of these pho­tos form a vis­ual in­tro­duc­tion to her ex­hi­bi­tion. The wall mon­tage also in­cludes a photo taken by her 4½-year-old daugh­ter, Olive, who quite un­in­ten­tion­ally man­aged to cut off her mother’s head in a Po­laroid photo taken when her sis­ter was a week old.

“I formed an emo­tional con­nec­tion to the pho­tos,” said Williams, as she walks the perime­ter of the gallery, her baby sleep­ing

on her shoul­der.

“These are sym­bolic for moth­er­hood.”

The pho­tos are thought-pro­vok­ing on many lev­els, both lit­eral and meta­phoric. On the gallery walls and on pedestals in the mid­dle of the room, Williams re­vis­its the deeper themes of hid­den moth­ers us­ing a va­ri­ety of medi­ums.

In the bath­tub one night, she no­ticed her preg­nant body above the wa­ter line, and the parts hid­den un­der­wa­ter. The artist in her was in­spired to cre­ate Po­laroid emul­sions lifts that rep­re­sented her preg­nancy jour­ney. In sim­ple terms, her part­ner pho­tographed her in the tub and other places, naked, us­ing a Po­laroid cam­era; she then cut out the images, sub­merged them in wa­ter to sep­a­rate the lay­ers, and then pho­tographed the wrin­kled

and float­ing pho­tos in­di­vid­u­ally with a dig­i­tal SLR cam­era.

She took 40 of those pho­tos — one for ev­ery week of preg­nancy — placed them at the bot­tom of glass Ma­son jars, sealed them in a pro­tec­tive clear coat­ing, and filled the jars with wa­ter. “Pre­serves” she calls them.

She col­lected the jars over the sum­mer at thrift stores. At first, she se­lected the nicest, more per­fect jars. Then she re­al­ized the ones with im­per­fec­tions were more in­ter­est­ing.

And yes, there are many analo­gies to moth­er­hood woven into her ex­hi­bi­tion, some sub­tle oth­ers un­equiv­o­cally hon­est and di­rect.

CH­ERYL CLOCK THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

Mother, artist and Brock vis­ual arts stu­dent Am­ber Lee Williams with her daugh­ter, Oc­tavia.

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