Maternal Mortality – Why Art?
Public Art is an accessible form of communication that can transcend the limitations of language and culture.
One of the most common questions we get is: “Why use art to address maternal mortality?” or “There is such a shortfall between the needs on the ground and the resources to meet them, so why is the Mother’s Monument focused on art?”
The short answer is that we are doing much more than public art. But let’s talk about the public art component, because it is really important to understand how this will help reduce the risk of maternal mortality.
Effectively addressing maternal mortality is much more complicated than ensuring women have access to appropriate care during labor. Every country with low maternal deaths or rapidly falling rates has achieved as much because of concerted public efforts to support a safe birthing experience. Any solution to firmly and permanently reduce maternal deaths must involve the whole community. We believe that an effective way to do this is through public memorials.
When we erect memorials for fallen soldiers, hold parades or invest in veterans’ health care services, do we ever question the allocation of these resources? Not really. These are considered appropriate gestures for the public sacrifice that the soldiers made on behalf of their communities. And why is that? Because public art is a symbol of our cultural values.
What we discuss in public settings is more likely to obtain the attention and critical funds needed to make a difference. Right now, maternal mortality remains hidden within the private sphere, beyond the view of public consciousness. Public art is one way to raise our collective awareness and encourage us to act!
Questioning the worth of building public art to remember our fallen mothers is evidence, indeed, that such a memorial is actually needed. As a society, we still do not acknowledge the magnitude of these losses publicly, which is evidence that we value certain types of lives–and losses–more than others. These unspoken limitations on what we can publicly address end up limiting open and honest communication in the public sphere about how we can actively address the problem.
If we embrace the need to move the conversation into the public sphere, then we can ask the same question–“Why art?”–from a different perspective1. What is it about art that will help improve the conditions of women and their communities around the world? From our perspective, art gives us the power to shape our world. Images transcend geographic and cultural barriers in ways that words cannot. By facilitating dialogue through multiple artistic mediums, communities around the world will be able to participate in a broad conversation that might otherwise be limited–and less transferable–from one culture to the next. By confronting our assumptions about what is valuable in the public sphere, we can begin to ask deeper questions about what is valuable to society and how we should support it as a community.