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Important early film by “the mother of all feminist artists” Mary Kelly donated to Brighton Art Gallery through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society Scheme

6 May 2020 By

As part of our #CASatHome film series we are very pleased to present our latest acquisition though the VN XX CAS scheme, which encourages debate on the gender imbalance in UK museum collections. The film is available to view for 72 hours only and the talk will be online permanently.

Antepartum, 1973 is a key early work by Mary Kelly that portrays a pregnant stomach at full term in a single close up shot. Action is minimal – the woman’s abdomen rises and falls with each breath and the baby’s foetal movements are at times visible under the surface of the skin. The short film is projected as a continuous loop which enables viewers to feel they are watching a pregnancy in real-time.

Inspired by contemporary experimental filmmaking, Kelly refuses narrative and encourages the viewer to understand the image as a material two-dimensional visual presence rather than a representational component of a larger story. Such an aesthetic reflects earlier durational film-works such as Andy Warhol’s iconic films Sleep and Empire (1964). However, Kelly uses the film to communicate a female experience that lies outside of conventional narrative language and makes visible what was invisible in the art world at the time. The ‘objective’ disengaged view of the camera reveals only the abdomen, focuses attention on the bodily experience and highlighting its universality.

Mary Kelly was renowned early in her career for introducing feminist concerns into the male-dominated conceptual art world in the 1970s and Antepartum forms a prologue to her iconic Post-Partum Document, 1973-79. This six-year project saw Kelly, influenced by psychoanalytic theory, explore and document the mother-child relationship.

The film has been acquired for the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove’s Fine Art Collection after the museum made a strong case for addressing the representation of women artists within their existing collections. Alongside the work, an in-conversation was recorded between the artist and Caroline Douglas, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, Jenny Lund, Curator of Fine Art at Brighton Museum, and Valeria Napoleone, co-founder of VN XX CAS.