Tabitha Moses - artist guest blog

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Hand embroidered illustration Detail of hospital robe, hand embroidered by Tabitha.

'Tabitha Moses: Investment' is on display at the Walker Art Gallery until 26 October. In this guest blog the artist gives some background to this beautiful, intimate and moving work:

In 2009 my husband and I decided to make a baby. It wasn’t that easy. After a few years of trying to conceive naturally I had three cycles of IVF. Two using my own eggs at Hewitt Fertility Centre, Liverpool, and the last, successful, one using an egg from an anonymous donor at CARE Fertility in Manchester. We were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’ - likely to be a result of my age.

During the years of trying I felt, at times, desperate. I remember trying to regain control through things like acupuncture, hypnotherapy, meditation, dietary changes, methods of ovulation prediction, fertility amulets…magical thinking. On reflection, the chances of success with IVF were so low that there was a certain amount of magical thinking during that process too.

For 'Investment' I chose to work with Emma and Melanie because of the variety of our experiences. Emma’s fallopian tubes were affected by a bout of Chlamydia several years ago and one tube was removed. A burst ovarian cyst complicated matters further. I was interested in her rituals and beliefs, as well as her medical history. She asks her recently departed Nana for help and wears fertility symbols as jewellery and a tattoo – interesting imagery for me to draw upon. Emma has recently had an embryo transferred and is waiting to see if the treatment has been successful.

Woman in hospital robe 'Mel'  Copyright 2014 Tabitha Moses and Jon Barraclough

I was attracted to Melanie’s story because she had already conceived a daughter with her first cycle of IVF a couple of years ago. Her history includes a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy which resulted in the removal of a fallopian tube. At the time we made contact she was having her remaining frozen embryo transferred. Unfortunately the treatment was unsuccessful.

Initially I researched fertility objects in museums – Liverpool's World Museum, British Museum, Wellcome Collection – gathering information about the things people have used to help them conceive.

I was also looking at folk embroidery on traditional costumes. Many wedding garments are embroidered with fertility imagery and the traditional Western white wedding is full of fertility symbolism. At the same time I remembered the images of me and my husband wearing our hospital gowns in the Hewitt Centre during our first IVF cycle. How many hundreds of people have taken the same photos in the same situation?

Each gown took about four weeks to make. I find hand embroidery a contemplative, and sometimes therapeutic, act – it takes so long that you spend time getting to know the subject intimately. My hands are busy but my mind is free to roam.

The photographic portraits were taken by Jon Barraclough. We had many conversations over coffee and cake in the Walker café – he understood the project and the look I was going for. He brought his experience and artist’s eye to the work and it became more a collaboration than a straightforward commission.

I hope these three gowns and photographs are the beginning of a larger series. I’d love to represent the experiences of men, same sex couples and people in other countries where there are different approaches to infertility and assisted conception. One of the aims of Investment is to open up a conversation and allow other people to share their stories.

The end of the exhibition coincides with National Fertility Awareness Week (27 October – 4 January).

For more information visit: www.infertilitynetworkuk.com