Celebrating motherhood is a perennial function of art, but to come upon such a vivid likeness of a naked and heavily pregnant woman in an art gallery is a confronting experience. Our initial impulse is to avert our eyes, and yet the powerful presence of Ron Mueck’s Pregnant woman demands our attention. We are misled into thinking that the larger-than-life woman is alive – for varnishes and painstaking implants to the fibreglass body and silicone head achieve a miraculous replication of skin and hair – and are drawn into identifying with her, into experiencing the sculpture with reference to ourself.
The empathetic attraction comes from her size – at twice the height of many viewers, she seems to monumentalise the human – and from the extreme physical exhaustion conveyed in her posture, strain marks and facial expression. Her closed eyes and nakedness invite us to share her inward focus and on the child she is carrying.
As well as consulting anatomy texts and photographs, London-based Mueck worked with a model for three months, beginning when she was six months pregnant. The model gave birth before Mueck had finished the sculpture.
More information about the making of Pregnant woman can be found at nga.gov.au/Mueck
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008