Mary Kelly is a conceptual feminist artist who was a member of the Berwick Street Collective who produced radical, feminist documentary films such as Nightcleaners Part 1 and who is interested in project-based work. Her best-known piece is Post-Partum Document 1973 – 79 in which she documented her life, and the way it changed, as a mother and the ever changing mother/child relationship – causing scandal on route by including stained nappy liners. She has picked six important stages of her child’s life to document, early life (including the nappies), first words, early markings (scribbles), transitional items (including a footprint), diagrams and statistics and pre-writing alphabet. She combines actual items with analysis. These are all stages that any parent will know well, and relate to, however, they are not what, certainly in that era , would have been considered either ‘art’ or something that should be shown to the public and as such caused an outcry. She focused on the domestic aspects of being a woman – but she suggests it is not simply autobiographical but includes academic discussion and debate. In the Tate’s description of the work they say, ‘Kelly subverts the artistic tradition of sentimentalising the mother-child relationship, showing its complexity’ (Tate, 2018). Kelly herself talks about the work in a film as ‘needed to understand the psychological underpinnings of sexual/social division of labour was…..to document of the daily activity associated with the child….the stained nappy liners were the record, they were the evidence… (I)… wanted to do this without a conventional image of the mother and child… at the time it was quite controversial, and I just ended up making almost everyone unhappy…. Theorists (asked) ‘Why have you got that stuff in there?’ , the women (asked) ‘Why have you got the theory in there?’…..it could stretch the artist out of the very different directions … what is femininity?’ (Kelly, 2006) and ‘the relationships between men and women are very different for the younger generation…women are much, much better placed to fulfil their potential’ (Kelly, 2015).
Kelly continues to follow her ideals of feminism and the need for artists to articulate the voices of those who cannot speak. Fowler notes that ‘Kelly’s work has always retained its personal, emotional payload’ (Fowler, 2018). Her more recent work looks at how to show war related atrocities and includes using the lint fluff from a dryer to make war memorials in On the Passage of a few People Through a Rather Brief Period of Time and in Dicere, 2014 she uses the words of witnesses to a drone strike which killed their grandmother. Her work continues to fascinate, and although she has moved on from the aggressive feminist works of her earlier years, she is still an important worker in the liberation of people across the globe.
Fowler, W. (2018). 10,000 revolutions: meet Mary Kelly, the mother of all feminist artists. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/18/mary-kelly-meet-the-mother-of-all-feminist-artists.
Kelly, M. (2006). Post-Partum Document, 1973-79. Www.bl.uk. [online] Available at: http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/utopia/methods1/bourgeoisie1/bourgeoisie.html.
Kelly, M. (2015). Mary Kelly – “Everything Seemed to Be a First” | TateShots. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaKXUVDSZdQ [Accessed 27 Apr. 2019].
Kelly, M. (2019). Post-Partum Document. [online] Marykellyartist.com. Available at: http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html.
Tate. (2018). ‘Post-Partum Document. Documentation III: Analysed Markings and Diary Perspective Schema (Experimentum Mentis III: Weaning from the Dyad)’, Mary Kelly, 1975 | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kelly-post-partum-document-documentation-iii-analysed-markings-and-diary-perspective-t03925.