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Research and art combine to uncover parenting experiences

While mothers are often the focus of parenting research around feeding babies, a new exhibition is looking at fathers’ and partners’ experiences negotiating breastfeeding their newborn child.

Tenderness is an exhibition by University of Tasmania public health researcher Jennifer Ayton and translates health research findings through sculpture, aiming to provide people with a space where they can come, enjoy, reflect and interpret the findings.

The exhibition follows on from Dr Ayton’s 2017/18 research and exhibition Broken Bodies portraying mother’s experiences feeding their young children.

“This is the father’s/partner’s  data and the combination of further research we gathered around how parents negotiated feeding their young babies in the first three years after birth, so it’s the next step,” Dr Ayton said.

“We are using arts in health methods to translate the data into something people can engage with and that will hopefully celebrate some of the beautiful connections we make with one another when we are sharing things that are hard and difficult.”

Data for the research was collected from over 90 mothers and fathers– including same sex couples, from the Hobart area, with all exhibition pieces being hand built and taking several months each to complete.

The research uncovered a very positive message about breastfeeding and the place fathers /partners have, showing that while both mothers and fathers/ partners often found feeding their children a challenging experience, through the adversity they found a closer bond.

Dr Ayton said using arts in health to translate research makes everyday moments such as feeding young babies extraordinary, notable and memorable.

“It is a powerful way to communicate  the research findings to the community and participants - to make something that is hidden visual  and to translate something that would normally be written in a scientific journal,” she said.

“It is a lovely combination of arts and health where the two stand alone, but they come together to tell a story.

“Combining arts and health research has a way of bringing a community together, shifting perspectives and generating shared meanings that can help people make sense of their experiences.”

Dr Ayton said it was a privilege to be let into people’s lives and intimate experiences and hear their stories.

Tenderness is open to the public at the Moonah Arts Centre, until Saturday 10 October.

Published on: 07 Oct 2020 9:16am