Celeb mums, endless Instagram baby pics: we're used to seeing images of motherhood but its realities are seldom expressed. In unflinching photos and videos, the eight artists here consider more nuanced ways of seeing a universal subject. Common themes emerge, communicating darkness and transcendence through watery immersions, limbs tangled in embrace or sleep, and bodies bruised by childbearing or its pursuit – as in Elina Brotherus’s yearning meditations on her years of unsuccessful IVF.
Where there are children, there is humour, and flashes of levity quicken the pace. Katie Murray finds untapped reserves of strength and grapples with becoming inextricable from her children in the video of the artist pounding a treadmill, carrying first one and then both her sons.
Fathers also figure, most affectingly in Fred Hüning’s hugely personal series documenting a traumatic journey to parenthood. The sensationalism of Leigh Ledare’s transgressive pictures of his mother engaged in explicit sex seems at odds with the exhibition’s commitment to realism, though the pair’s troubled relationship is honestly portrayed. By contrast, Elinor Carucci’s studies of the sensuality between mother and child gracefully balance intimacy and innocence. Playful and eloquent, unsentimental yet deeply moving, this is a welcome reassessment of maternal iconography.