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Tandem Nursing: Kerri Lawnsby's pastels show a woman breast-feeding two older children at the same time, a subject matter that may make some viewers uncomfortable.

Breast in Show

The new art show 'Got Breast Milk' takes a confident look at a subject that society often turns away from in embarrassment

By Gary Singh

THERE'S NO question mark after the title "Got Breast Milk," because Kerri Lawnsby and Christy Scherrer say the title isn't a question. "We have breast milk," Lawnsby declares. "Everyone breast feeds." The two local artists are attempting to dispel the notion that public breast-feeding is a peculiar hippie thing.

Both Lawnsby's pastels and Scherrer's photographs depict women breast-feeding their young and are on display at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center. "We thought that if people could see more images of breast-feeding moms, then people would find it more approachable," Lawnsby says.

Scherrer explains that breast-feeding is a skill, an art and a commitment. Lawnsby, executive director of Silicon Valley Open Studios, is currently nursing a 1-year-old son. "If my boy is hungry, I'm going to whip out my boob and feed him," she says. "I don't care where we are."

It all began with both artists discussing the issues they faced as new mothers. "Christy and I got to talking about how it was such a challenge as a first-time mother to be out in public and to be nursing," Lawnsby explains. "How it's uncomfortable because you're trying to feed your baby, and it's kind of awkward to feed the baby without exposing yourselves. So we talked about doing a series of artwork about nursing mothers to promote nursing and make it more accessible. That it's a totally normal thing. We're mammals. We're supposed to be nursing our young."

One of Lawnsby's pastels, Tandem Nursing, features a woman nursing one child on each breast while pregnant with a third. And the kids are ages 2 and 4. "[The image] is going to bother people," cautions Lawnsby. "People are uncomfortable in general with breast-feeding, but then you start talking about two older children nursing at the same time, and now you're really going to have [people upset]."

If the image seems animalistic, it is. Humans are indeed animals. But the value of breast-feeding, according to Lawnsby, overcomes any stigma associated with bringing out our animalistic qualities. "It's just so tender," she says without shame. "It's such a bond with your baby."

Another pastel, tentatively titled Everybody's Dining, features a group of women sitting in a posh restaurant over glasses of wine while one woman's baby nurses away on her exposed breast. "People have a lot opinions about what's the right thing for [breast-feeding] mothers to be doing ... what's the right thing for mothers to be ingesting. Is it going to hurt the baby if you have coffee or a glass of wine?"

But Lawnsby's doctor advised her that drinking an occasional glass of beer is actually beneficial to breast-feeding because it stimulates breast milk production in cases where the mother is having problems producing. Apparently, it's something about the hops.

While public breast-feeding is technically legal in all 50 states, the act still bothers a good portion of society. No one wants to talk about it. Both Lawnsby and Scherrer conclude that it's because people in this country just don't know how to deal with the nonsexual breast.

"When you're nursing," explains Lawnsby, "the breast is not a sexual thing anymore. It's just a means of producing food for a baby. And you have to reveal the nipple in order to breast-feed. It all comes down to the nipple, and society's obsession with breasts as sexual and not knowing what to do with a breast that's made for food."

According to Lawnsby, she and Scherrer are just trying to elevate the topic to a point where people can chat about it: "We're showing mothers in situations where they're doing what they normally would do as women in society. And their babies are with them, nursing. We're trying to promote the integration of breast-feeding with a woman's public life. The images will evoke discussion."

Got Breast Milk, an art show by Kerri Lawnsby and Christy Scherrer, runs through Jan. 17 at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, 9341 Mill St., Ben Lomond. (831.336.3513)

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From the January 1-7, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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