A mother baboon grieving after the death of her own baby abducts a human baby to nurture. The human child is quickly rescued unharmed. That’s the story that inspired Big Mother by Patricia Piccinini, one of the sculptures in the Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination exhibit currently at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I was at the gallery preparing for my tours next week and I spent a fair bit of time at the Big Mother installation wondering about the best way to introduce it to children.
Before I told the story of the human child abducted by a baboon to my tour groups I wanted to be sure it was a true story. I found a couple of narratives on the web about baboons abducting human babies but they were fiction. One was a moving short story of a young mother on a picnic who goes to chase after her daughter’s pink bonnet when a gust of wind blows it away. She leaves her infant girl on the picnic blanket for just a minute and when she returns with the errant bonnet the baby is gone. The mother spots her darling daughter in the arms of a baboon high in a tree and only after a man distracts the baboon mother with dancing and loud noises does the baboon leave but not before depositing the precious cargo in her arms gently on the ground.
The National Geographic website reported that one June morning in 2003, on a farm in South Africa, a young mother responding to the cries of her three-month-old baby discovered the infant had been taken by a baboon. The website doesn’t tell us the outcome of the story. It is simply a teaser to get us interested in watching the program. One intriguing thing about the sculpture Big Mother is the designer bags at the baboon mother’s feet. What are they for and what is inside them? I think I’ll let my tour group participants use their imaginations to figure that out.
The baboon in the Big Mother sculpture definitely looks sad and I will ask my tour participants to speculate on what might make her sad. If she could talk what would she say? The Big Mother piece is made from silicone, fibreglass, leather and human hair and sells for $250,000.
I’ll probably avoid a view of Big Mother’s backside with my younger students. It is just a little too graphic but with older gallery visitors it might spark discussion. Sculptor Patricia Piccinini does not shy away from realistic and earthy renditions of her subjects. She was born in Sierra Leone, perhaps that’s why she is familiar with baboons. Now Piccinini lives in Melbourne Australia.
There are two other works by Piccinini in the Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination show. Both are equally thought-provoking.
The Long Awaited and Stem Cells.
Each of these pieces could also spark some interesting conversations and questions during the tours I give. I’m looking forward to it.
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