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8 November - 13 December 2017: Conceiving Histories

How can something that doesn’t happen have a history? How can there be a material trace of un-pregnancy in the archive? This exhibition explores this paradox, finding and considering a material history of pregnancy feigned, imagined, hidden and difficult to diagnose. Reimagining, through structure and shape, the look of things that have been left to us in text, the Conceiving Histories exhibition re-materialises with photography, sculpture and drawing the past of un-pregnancy.

Conceiving Histories is a collaboration between academic and literary historian, Isabel Davis, and visual artist, Anna Burel. From this collaboration emerge fantastical and fictional reworkings of archival materials, work which explores the power, and lack of power, of the mind over the reproductive body. Attempts to diagnose pregnancy fertilize the imagination and, so, the imagination compensates in the face of reproductive disappointment. This exhibition explores the search for signs of pregnancy in, from and on the body as well as messages and messengers, divine or otherwise. Empty uterine spaces are displaced from the corporeal frame, sometimes labelled and dated, sometimes filled with strange visions, reimagining female subjectivity in relation to the unknowability of the body. Swollen and flat structures, pads and envelopes, empty and filled, contrast the fantasies of or desire for pregnancy and the reality of the un-pregnant body. The body can be as opaque as history, resistant, mediated and difficult to read. This exhibition threads together lived experiences through time, linking the past to the present, offering new ways to think about our reproductive futures.

Hear Dr Isabel Davis talking to the Fertility Podcast about the Conceiving Histories research project and exhibition

Read more about the exhibition in the Times Higher Education and in a blog by Diane Watt, Professor of English Literature, University of Surrey which describes the exhibition as 'imaginative scholarship at its best, elegant, meditative, and compassionate.'

15th November 2017- Private viewing and reception 6-8:30pm. Reserve your free place. All Welcome!

22 November 2017 Conceiving Histories – behind the exhibition
This event explores the Conceiving histories exhibition and is part of the Being Human Festival. Reserve your free place now!

30 November - 1st December 2017 The Pregnant Archive
This symposium will examine the objects, spaces, descriptions and other archival materials that defined, and were left behind by maternity as crucial to its multifarious meanings.

Academic speakers include: Cathy McClive, Karen Harvey, Magdalena Ohaja, Shrikant Botke, Sarah Fox, Sara Read, Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, Rosemary Betterton, Anne Carruthers, Rebecca Whiteley and Edwina Attlee. Reserve your free place now!


Birkbeck, School of Arts
43 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PD


Opening hours

Monday-Friday: 10am-8pm

Saturday: 10am - 5pm (Term time unless otherwise stated)

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