Post-Partum Document, 1973-79

Mary Kelly was one of the highest profile artists to come out of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain. In this film you can hear her talking about her work Post Partum Document.

Documentary experience

Mary Kelly was a member of the Berwick Street Collective, a London-based film collective that released the radically innovative Nightcleaners Part I 1975. This film documented the experience of women working the night shift cleaning office blocks in London, and covered the struggle with unions and the conditions under which the cleaners worked. You can find out more about the Nightcleaners campaign in Activism.

Post Partum Document

Mary Kelly became more famous for her conceptual work Post Partum Document, in which she documents the early years of her son’s life (1973–9). The whole work was displayed at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in 1976. It caused uproar in the press because of Mary Kelly’s inclusion of one of her son’s dirty nappies. She was deeply influenced by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901–81) and was a member of a feminist discussion group that analysed his theories. These investigated the gendering of early child development and the unconscious.

Why do you think the inclusion of a dirty nappy in a frame at the ICA in the 1970s was so controversial? What do you think about this reaction?

What images of mothers, mothering and children have you seen in an artistic context? How do you think Post Partum Document challenged traditional representations of the mother-child relationship?


Film credits

This extract is taken from the film Mary Kelly, Fyra verk i dialog 1973-2010 (Four Works in Dialogue 1973-2010) for the Moderna Museet Stockholm. Producer: Ulf Eriksson © Moderna Museet