I was finding it really difficult to breastfeed, and I’d seen nurses — I’d done all kinds of things, and then my sister brought over my nephew who was six months old, and she said “Look, why don’t you breastfeed Philip?”1 And I thought to myself, “No, no, no, I can’t do that, he’s not my son. He’s not my flesh and blood.” And then I thought well, maybe I can do it. And I did. And he actually taught me what to do, because breastfeeding is not an instinctive — both the mother and the child need to learn how to do it. And he actually taught me. So, it was like this kind of barrier came down; the barrier between me and another body. And I thought gee — because I was thinking I can’t be a breastfeeding machine, but then I thought this isn’t about being a machine, this is about connection. And yeah, I felt really connected to him and indebted to what he could do for me, and it meant that I could then go ahead and feed my child. So, it was a really significant moment for me.
And then around the same time I went to a party with my husband, and because I come from Africa, of course I have lots of Africa stories. And my husband’s friend had his own Africa story, and his story was that his baby sister was abducted by a baboon that had lost her child. They got his sister back straight away, but it just made me think the boundary between species is not that great. It’s really about what you feel, and that mother was feeling incredible grief, and made to be nurturing and connected to a child, so much so that she was willing to substitute a child of another species, to be able to do that.
And so, that inspired this work where I have this big, incredibly strong chimera type creature, and she’s breastfeeding a human child.2 So, she’s based on a baboon, and she’s breastfeeding a human child, but the focus of the work, it’s not really the idea — when you see the work, your eyes immediately go to her eyes, because you can see that she’s kind of conflicted, and she knows that she’s got this connection with this child. It’s both a physical one in that she’s feeding it, and it’s also an emotional one, in that she’s nurturing it. But it’s never going to be her child, and perhaps she’s some kind of creature that’s being created for us to help us look after our children, and she’s always going to be a kind of servant, and maybe she’s contemplating taking this child. So, that’s the inspiration for the situation. And I guess yeah, the work is all in the mother’s eyes, and people are drawn to that.3