Sea of Bellies artworks celebrate the health of First Nation mums for NAIDOC 2019

Sea of Bellies artworks celebrate the health of First Nation mums for NAIDOC 2019

Bright sculptures of painted plaster casts of pregnant mothers’ bellies are featured in a beautiful new exhibition in celebration of NAIDOC 2019 Voice Treaty Truth, which opened today Tuesday, 9 July) at Manning Regional Art Gallery.

Sea of Bellies is a highly successful, 15 year collaboration with First Nations communities all across Australia, led by Beyond Empathy. It connects young Aboriginal mothers with elders and mid-wives, where casts are taken of women’s pregnant bellies and then painted by local artists and Elders from the community, sharing culture, stories and skills.

Through the making and sharing of art, Sea of Bellies engages young First Nations families into health services, encourages antenatal awareness and builds relationships with midwives before giving birth.  Beyond Empathy artist Jo Davidson, has led the project over 15 years forming strong and respectful bonds with Mums, Aunties, Elders and health workers alike. Jo teaches the midwives how to make casts of the pregnant mums’ bellies and they stay involved in the art-making process as part of the provision of this essential antenatal health service. Jo is skilled at creating safe, respectful spaces where Mums feel safe to talk with health workers. In the art space information and stories flow two-ways, ensuring warm and respectful relationships sit at the heart of all communication.  It is an empowered space, where women share, collaborate, support rather than a conventional health model of patient and health worker.

As part of Beyond Empathy’s art-meets-health strategy, a Sea of Bellies online toolkit, with step-by-step instructions and videos for community groups to start their own Sea of Bellies project, has also being launched alongside the exhibition. The toolkit will enable Sea of Bellies to be replicated by anyone or any community nationally.

Executive Director Kim McConville said Sea of Bellies was Beyond Empathy’s longest running project and its success was in part due to its simplicity.

“We are delighted to make available all the resources needed for communities to run their own Sea of Bellies to help improve the health of mothers-to-be through making art,” she said.

The artworks featured in this years Sea of Bellies NAIDOC exhibition were made in partnership with Biripi Aboriginal Midwifery Indigenous Health Service, Taree and Woromi Tobwabba Forster.

The Sea of Bellies project was initiated by Aboriginal midwives at Moree Base Hospital in 2004 and has since been translated to many communities in regional NSW, including Lismore and the Illawarra, and further afield to Sydney, Brisbane, and Derby, Western Australia.