The Great Mother: Women, Maternity, and Power in Art and Visual Culture, 1900-2015

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Through the work of over eighty international artists, The Great Mother aims to analyze the iconography of motherhood in art and visual culture during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, from early avant-garde movements to the present. Whether as a symbol of creativity or as a metaphor for art itself, the archetype of the mother has been a central figure in the history of art, from the Venuses of the stone age to the “bad girls” of the postfeminist era and across centuries of religious works depicting countless maternity scenes. The more familiar version of “mother” has also become a stereotype closely tied to Italy. In attempting to analyze the portrayal of motherhood, The Great Mother traces a history of female empowerment, chronicling gender struggles, sexual politics, and tensions between tradition and emancipation. The volume combines past and present, juxtaposing contemporary art, historical works, and artifacts from film and literature, weaving a rich tapestry of associations and images. Artists include Magdalena Abakanowicz, Ida Applebroog, Thomas Bayrle, Umberto Boccioni, Louise Bourgeois, Constantin Brancusi, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dal, and many more.

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