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Ex Voto // Katie Maish // Fratelli's Cafe And Gallery


About The Show:

"This body of work is about my son, Jack, and the way my husband and I brought him into the world via in vitro fertilization. The IVF process is intensive, fascinating and, while emotionally and physically exhausting, completely worth it. During this process, I thought about the fertility rituals and festivals around the world and the way they incorporate elements of the natural world into them. For instance, Hōnen Matsuri is a fertility festival celebrated in Japan every March. Hōnen (prosperous year) promises a rich harvest that is marked by this dynamic matsuri (festival). In this festival and similar ones occurring in other parts of the world, people put their hope and faith in ritual to help them conceive. My husband and I put our faith in science to do the same. In this work, I have inserted Jack into images of festivals like Hōnen Matsuri. The work is further inspired by Mexican ex voto paintings. Just as these paintings were used to thank saints for the good things that happened to them through hard times, I am using these photographs to thank everyone who helped bring Jack to us. The work is about my love for my family and my gratitude to the people that helped us along the way."


Hōnen Matsuri Festival, Komaki, Japan/Memphis, Tennessee, 2015

Artist Interview:

MBG: These pieces are really powerful thank you letters! (see statement) A visual homage to those that helped create your family. More than that they are an artist's response to the in vitro fertilization experience. Did you spend some time looking at other contemporary artist's work based on IVF? If so, how did it influence this body of work?           

Katie Maish: Since I use sequins with this work, I spend more time lately looking at contemporary artists that alter photo surfaces or create photographic illusions using alternative materials. In the last few years I have used pins and thread on photographs, and I love to see what other people do along a similar vein and why they do it. When I was pregnant with Jack, I saw Shan Goshorn’s work at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. She uses photographs to make really stunning, intricate baskets. Just like sequins can be used to make clothes, her baskets make me think of how they’re used in domestic – and traditionally feminine - spaces. The way she subverts basket-weaving craft with alternative materials is so clever and beautiful. Liza Lou creates amazing, room-sized sculptural installations out of thousands of glass beads. They are hyper-realistic and a little bit dreamy at the same time. In my Hōnen Matsuri piece, Jack is looking up at the sky as if he’s seeing a dream become real. 

MBG: You chose elemental imagery from fertility rituals around the world. The necessity of water as a life-giving source is an obvious one...can you talk about some of the other elements or symbols you chose to include and what meaning they held for you?  

Katie Maish: Ivan Kupala Day is a popular pagan holiday in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine during the summer solstice. There are ceremonies that incorporate water, fire and herbs. In my Ivan Kupala Day piece, you see two ladies jumping over a fire. In the cleansing fire ceremony, the person who jumps the highest is considered to be the happiest person. People have also led cattle through bonfires and burned the clothes of ill children to protect both from disease. Kokopelli is a Native American fertility deity that presides over both agriculture and childbirth. After working at Chucalissa, I am very familiar with Kokopelli. In my Kokopelli piece, you see Jack and his father playing in the water. In the Southeastern United States, water vessels featuring Kokopelli have been recovered from AD 1200 that, as you say, refer to water as a life-giving element. 

MBG: One might assume that with a degree in Biology you use your fine arts practice to conduct your research. How do these two disciplines fit together for you in your studio practice? Do tell how sequins got to play a part!?              

Katie Maish: I certainly like to make work about the intersection between science and art and work that is directly about science. In 2013, I participated in St. Jude’s Art of Science exhibition. I displayed nine portraits of the descendants of Henrietta Lacks, using pins and transparent thread over their bodies to visually represent the research the Green lab performs using an immortal HeLa cell line harvested from Mrs. Lacks in 1951. Today it is the oldest and most commonly used cell line in the world and these cells were harvested without her knowledge (consent to use body tissue was not required at the time). When I was making this work, I thought about the countless positive outcomes of research using HeLa cells (research on HeLa cells led to huge breakthroughs in fertility science, for instance) measured against the ethical implications of that lack of permission from her and her descendants. As I mention above, the sequins are used because I enjoy interrupting photographs with objects that are added by hand. Also, my lifestyle has drastically changed since I have had a child. Before, I worked full time and spent a lot of time out of the home. Today, I spend much more time at home with him, and I wanted to add something that refers to domesticity and homemaking. 


Mên-an-Tol, Cornwall, United Kingdom/Memphis, Tennessee, 2015

About The Artist:

Katie Maish is a visual artist and museum professional based in Memphis. She received a B.S. in Biology from Rhodes College in 1998 and an M.F.A. in Photography with a Museum Studies Certificate from the University of Memphis in 2012. Since then she has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis and worked at the C.H. Nash Museum. Katie now raises her son in Midtown with her husband and three cats.  


Okazaki Shrine, Kyoto, Japan/Memphis, Tennessee, 2015

Posted by Stephanie Cosby at 11:53 AM

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