Meet the student midwives who champion body positivity through their art

Two student midwives and best friends share a passion for celebrating the body beautiful. They tell us all about their art

Textile designer Alanna Josie and ceramicist Georgia Casey of Artemis Ceramics have a tale of female empowerment and friendship so intertwined with their creative magic it would have been remiss not to feature them together. The two best friends are currently studying midwifery – a passion that is ingrained in their art – and in their spare time they manage their own creative pursuits. Although their businesses are run separately, they’re never far apart. Alanna lives down the road from Georgia and her accumulated hours of studying and creating in Georgia’s sunroom studio has made her an honorary house member.

The female form has long played muse to both women and their work, but their journey into midwifery has strengthened this bond even further. Their first collaboration is the culmination of years working side by side. But whether it’s together or apart, their art serves as a reminder that all bodies are beautiful.

Alanna Josie

When did you start painting/textile design?

I have always found patterns in strange places; the textures of tiles, peeling wallpaper, or even the way that the concrete has discoloured. I’ve never been far from a paintbrush!

What do you love about it?

The secret language I create within my pattern collections describes a time, a place, an object, or a memory that is really special to me. I can reflect on where I was and what I was thinking when I was painting the piece, just by looking at it. And yet it is remarkable that anyone can look at the same painting and interpret the patterns or paintings of body silhouettes through the lens of their own experiences, impressions, and memories. There is so much beauty in our individual interpretations of art.

You work in printing and hand painting – what inspires you to use each technique for various pieces?

The variability of these processes of lino-printing or hand-painting forces me to think differently about the resulting outcomes. Lino-printing requires removing the negative of what you want to print, and it suits my ‘Silhouettes’ collection where the image is often a bold shape. Hand-painting my patterns and some of my commissions of ‘Silhouettes’ or body portraits allows the movements of my hands, the flow of the ink, and the natural textures that result from the paint on watercolour paper to feature, and I find that these maker’s marks are what my customers value.

Why is it important for you to celebrate the body and all its glorious differences?

Like many, I have had my history of harsh self-judgements and reflections of my physical self, and of course that is not the true depiction of our emotional and personal identities. But in saying that, no two bodies are the same, and there should be representation of that. We should celebrate our unique figures; if you can see your body being represented in art and social media, it can be very empowering.

What has been the response to your ‘Silhouette’ collection?

I regularly receive messages from visitors to my website and Instagram who are so happy to see their body shapes celebrated. People want to honour themselves and I am more than happy to support this act of self-love and appreciation.

Why did you want to become a midwife?

When I first pictured myself as a midwife, it was like I had unlocked the holy grail – it was a euphoric moment and it felt like it was always meant to be. From the deepest part of my being I want to empower anyone who goes through pregnancy and childbirth to understand the incredible capabilities of their bodies. It’s a confronting, intimate and unique journey for everyone. It is going to be an absolute privilege to be invited into that sacred space.

There’s a beautiful connection between your midwifery studies and your recent work ‘Silhouettes’, what does this connection mean to you and how do they inspire each other?

I haven’t personally experienced pregnancy or birth, yet I only need to scroll on the internet to be told ways to ‘bounce back’ from my postpartum body, feel worried about stretch marks, or fear that my own body will fail me in childbirth. This is not okay! Until I begin placements and work in partnership with people who are on their maternity journey, my art form is the next best way I can empower and encourage a deeper connection to the innate capabilities and complexities of our bodies.

Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out to you when you think of your work?

I had a commission from a client who had two really hard pregnancies. She wanted a silhouette painted to represent her journey, reflecting an experience she wasn’t too fond of, but was proud to have overcome. On request, the postpartum shape of her breasts was specifically illustrated, representing her breastfeeding journey, which was the most joyous part for her after all of the previous challenges. To assist with someone’s desire to learn to respect their body was a truly beautiful experience.

Your painting was the starting point for the Artemis logo – what’s the best thing about collaborating with a friend?

Georgia is the most spirited soul in my life, she inspires me in her strong fostering of close friendships and lifting up of other women. The original painting that Kate [a friend and Georgia’s flatmate who took the photographs for this story] used for the Artemis logo was one I gifted Georgia when she completed her master’s thesis. Collaborating with Georgia is more than just two creatives working together; we know each other so well and we have similar aspirations of empowering wāhine in our creative and professional careers.

Georgia Casey, Artemis Ceramics

When did you start working with clay?

I started taking pottery classes in mid-2016, and it was at Alanna’s suggestion! I was writing my master’s thesis and needed an outlet to break up the long hours. Pottery teaches you to be patient, which is great for me because I’m not naturally the most patient person.

Where did the name Artemis come from?

The name Artemis comes from Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th-century Italian painter. Artemisia’s artwork often reflected the abuse she suffered as a young woman, and she often transformed her trauma into images of women fighting back against the violation of their bodies. Artemisia’s namesake is the Greek goddess Artemis, who happens to be the ruler of the moon, midwifery and childbirth. I chose it before I started studying midwifery, it’s funny how all these things intertwine in the one name.

What inspired you to make boob mugs?

I picked up pottery while writing my thesis. The subject of my paper was the early modern iconographic developments of the biblical bathers Susanna and Bathsheba, so I had female nudes on the brain. Shortly after learning how to throw clay on the wheel, Alanna and I were at my aunt’s house in the Waitākere Ranges, we sat outside on the balcony, whipped off our tops to sun ourselves and broke into a bag of clay to play with. I suggested we sculpt some boobs on a mug for a laugh, but I became totally fixated. I kept making them, and friends wanted the mugs, and then their friends wanted the mugs. What began as me being silly eventually became my livelihood.

How do you see Artemis helping to convey messages about body confidence?

We’ve grown up in a society with all these expectations and judgements around women’s bodies; overly sexualised, too large, too small, pressure to ‘bounce back’ after having a baby – you name it. Like so many women I have had troubles with body image and making boob mugs has aided in healing my own insecurities. It’s very cathartic and no two are the same, I just let the clay in my hands dictate how they turn out. Any piece you receive from me is totally unique and possesses its own energy.

What has been the response to your boob mugs?

As someone who studied art for so many years, becoming the maker is a strange feeling. There is so much meaning behind my mugs and the responses I get from people are often very personal. I’m always particularly touched when a new mother orders a mug for her midwife as a gift, or when someone buys one for their mum.

How do you juggle running Artemis and studying midwifery?

I don’t. My boyfriend and our dog keep me sane. I’m effectively studying and working full time, so finding a balance is really challenging. I have great days where I feel like I’m nailing it, and terrible days where I feel swallowed whole by my workload and am stricken with anxiety. I’m gradually learning what my limits are and how much I can handle. I’m really lucky to have Alanna; she is around at my flat a lot to study and she really helps me keep on top of things. My dear friend and flatmate Kate built my website, takes all my photos, and is an incredible sounding board.

Why did you decide to become a midwife?

I view my path to studying midwifery as a series of events, not just an isolated decision to get into study, and it’s very tied up in my pottery work. My boyfriend Micah encouraged me to pursue it, and once Alanna decided to retrain in midwifery, it sealed the deal for me. The greatest barrier I faced was committing to another four years at university and preparing for the financial challenges that come with being a student. This gave me the push I needed to establish Artemis. Having Alanna back after being overseas, meeting Kate, moving into a flat where I could have a studio, and feeling supported by my whānau and friends fostered an environment where I could take on midwifery study financially secured by a career in pottery.

Will there be any further collaborations?

Yes! We are working on something very special, see it here.

Interview by: Bea Taylor. Photography by: Kate Battersby

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