Uterine Dream

Uterine Dreams: Sculptor, Heal Thyself

3 June 2021 – 18 December 2021

ORIENTAL MUSEUM, THACKER GALLERY

An installation by sculptor and photographer Sarah Danays

Danays is an internationally exhibited artist whose work is inspired by gesture and antiquities – notably broken ones. Her practice involves extensive research into an object’s history and context to develop new interpretations for significant museum pieces, and to inform the treatment of broken objects from her own collection: a practice she describes as her metaphysical surgery.

Uterine Dreams has been inspired by two small objects from the Oriental Museum’s collections: an Egyptian New Kingdom pottery piece showing a postpartum mother and her child, and a Greco-Roman travertine fragment of a female torso. 

These ancient objects, conduits across millennia, lose none of their meaning or sentiment between the time of their manufacture and their twenty-first century re-viewing. The universal, timeless poignancy of the lone woman on her bed, hand on heart/breast, with her child beside her; the potent sexuality of the fragmented, female lower abdomen. Invested in these sculptures are the desires, hopes, prayers – dreams and memories – of love, sex and birth. And the fear and sorrow of infertility.

Danays’ work is unashamedly female – as the artist says, “it’s personal”. The project’s academic collaborator, Professor Ludmilla Jordanova, explains:

The content of Danays’ art is palpably gendered, by virtue of arising from and speaking to her experiences as a woman. While there is much debate about female artists in the past, and the extent to which artefacts they produced are distinctively feminine, in this case the artist is perfectly open in affirming that they are not ‘feminine’ in some superficial sense, but speaking with one woman’s voice about her own experiences. … The body that is most fundamental to her work is her own.

Portrait of the artist Sarah Danays in her Venice, Los Angeles studio, 2013. Photographed by Sinisha Nisevic

Danays’ work addresses difficult subjects with stealth and subtlety. The difficult subject that the artist now explores in Uterine Dreams is miscarriage. 

The works featured in this installation focus on the uterus, and the distress caused by the loss of a child. Drawing inspiration from ancient Egyptian collections at the Oriental Museum and the collections of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, the new artworks are displayed alongside ancient pieces.

The catalogue which accompanies this installation can be downloaded here. It carries a Foreword by Oriental Museum Curator, Rachel Barclay and essays by Mungo Campbell, Deputy Director of the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow; Professor Ludmilla Jordanova, Emeritus Professor of History and Visual Culture and Interim Director of the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture, Durham University; Livia Turnbull, Assistant Curator at the V&A, London; and the artist.

Sarah Danays’ Uterine Dreams has been supported by a Fellowship.