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Birth Rites Collection tours ;

Creating Birth Rites: collection of contemporary art on childbirth

Helen Knowles

Curator, Birth Rites Collection

05 May 2020

Crucially, it was meeting midwives who facilitated my own birth experiences (having had a caesarean and then a home birth) and the subsequent unfolding of this personal journey which shaped me and propelled me to instigate a life-long project which is the Birth Rites Collection.

It was also through the support of midwives that I was able to convince the institutions of the University of Salford (2009-2015) and King’s College London (2017-present) to take on the Birth Rites Collection. This was because midwives saw it as a vital pedagogic tool to explore the taboo and under-represented subject of birth, an often-sidelined aspect of all our lives which is traditionally viewed as a female subject, as something of relevance to all.

The midwives believed that themes which arise from the Birth Rites Collection; medical intervention, new biotechnologies of reproduction, notions of kinship, perinatal and post-natal mental health, the patients point of view and the ethical and social implications of care in birth are relevant and far reaching, beyond midwifery.


From my point of view, it is midwives whose unwavering support and open-minded approach to nurture a different narrative on their subject matter has been pivotal to the expansion of an important art collection. – Helen Knowles

International Midwives Day and the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife is a time to celebrate midwives' broad and inquisitive natures and their benevolence and camaraderie.

Birth Rites is a collection of contemporary art on childbirth. The first of its kind in the world. It is housed in Guys Campus at King’s College London and is on display for staff, students and the general public by appointment. During the pandemic, it is accessible virtually.

The collection currently comprises of photography, sculpture, painting, artist books, print, wallpaper, drawing, new media and film. It was set up after I curated a touring exhibition which opened at the Glasgow Science Centre and travelled to the Manchester Museum. The exhibition highlighted five commissions which were the result of collaborations between artists and birth practitioners.

The Birth Rites Collection has grown to 85 artworks which are predominantly donations from artists from around the world and include several commissions.

Works range from tapestries from the likes of Judy Chicago and a huge photographic installation from Mexican artist, Ana Casas Broda. Currently we are in the process of commissioning a new performance work from Puck Verkade who is showing in the Genders Season at the Science Gallery, London.

Our annual Summer School held at Guys Campus in July is an exceptional week-long program of seminars, workshops and discussions around the collection and open to everyone.

If you would like to visit the collection, we hold public tours and during the pandemic, virtual walk-arounds led by myself, Hermione Wiltshire, associate artist of Birth Rites Collection and Eleanor Featherby, midwife and alumni of the Midwifery Department at Kings College, London. 

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