(un)hidden uncovers journey of motherhood
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.
Mother, artist and Brock visual arts student Amber Lee Williams with her daughter, Octavia.