Milk It
Complicating Care (12/13)

Milk It

Artist Kadija de Paula unsettles breastmilk as a central part of naturalized reproduction, instead inviting a multiplicity of bodies with mammary glands to make milk.

Throughout my life, I have been privileged enough to escape pregnancy. Always under the impression that I had absolute control over my body, and that at some point, when the perfect time would arrive, then I would let the magic happen. Cum came and went, but I never allowed pregnancy to grow within. Until one day, at the end of 2020, I received a call to care for a child who already existed. That is when I realized that what I had perceived as a choice, was indeed a privilege, because reproductive rights are not equal for everyone, and neither are the rights, opportunities, or responsibility to care.

Milch: pasteurized human milk made to nourish the future of those who have not yet digested the insult of being born is the title, and very long subtitle, of the work I presented last spring at the exhibition ALIMENTO at la_cápsula, an artist run space and curatorial project in Zurich, that fosters dialogue between Swiss and Latin American artists. Curated by Adriana Domínguez, Alimento explored food systems based on reciprocity and circularity with the earth, with other humans, and non-humans. The exhibition brought together artists and scientists that investigate anthropophagy,[1] or the act of eating human flesh, both at the literal and metaphorical sense, with the intention of examining humans’ relation to nourishment, or alimento (in Spanish and Portuguese).

“Milch”, which means milk in German, is both the name of the old milk bar at Anwandstrasse 9 in Zurich where la_cápsula is currently found, as well as the extract of an artistic research journey that I undertook at Sommerakademie Paul Klee in the University of Fine Arts in Bern within the program “POSITION VOICE MUNDO: The Urgent Need for Feminization” curated by Dora García. It was 2021 and, at that moment, initially motivated by strong antinatalism feelings,[2] the most pressing question I had to ask myself, my fellow residents, and the world, was: Why would anyone consciously plan to reproduce when we can barely care for those already living?

I started my research by looking at the history of contraception. Then, I learned that it was during the cognitive revolution, about 50 thousand years ago, that humans gained reproductive consciousness by making the connection that sex led to pregnancy. Artifacts found in Dordogne, France show evidence of women tracking their menstrual cycles as far as 30 thousand years ago. The first written records of ancient contraceptive methods from Egypt and Mesopotamia date back to almost 4 thousand years ago. I imagined women from that time:

Ece is ahead of her time.
Born thousands of years ago,
on a land we now call thanksgiving bird.

Ece from below looks like her land from above.
Voluptuous, fertile, plump, full of curves.
Everybody wants to put something into Ece’s folds,
but her pockets are hers.

She knows how to use them well.
They are meant to hide her stuff.
Under her breast a comb, inside her vag, a stone.

Stones are her favorite.
They can be thrown to keep predators away,
or put inside to protect her from predators growing in.

She has seen that happen to her sisters.
One day they let the man in,
another day they spit a baby out.

She likes them babies
and plays with them like men do,
but doesn’t want to care for them like her sisters.

Ece likes to run, to hunt, and to hump.

I read, I drew, I wrote, and I still couldn’t grasp why our species continues to reproduce at an ever-accelerated pace despite Onan’s interrupted coitus in the Genesis, Lysistrata’s sex strike plot in Ancient Greece, or Emma Goldman’s multiple arrests for trying to share just a little bit of the vast knowledge that our species has accumulated on reproduction and birth control over the last thousands of years.

Many small images arranged on a grid backdrop.
Kadija’s 2021-2022 visual research map on Miro board

According to a study about how the world population has grown over time,[3] the average population growth rate between 10,000 BCE and 1700 ACE was 0.04%. It was around the 13th Century that the inquisitions, witch hunting, and the criminalization of any attempt of birth control through contraception, abortion or infanticide, redefined women’s roles in the new sexual division of labour as “producers of children for the State”—a process much studied by feminist historians, and which was practically complete by the end of the 17th Century as described by Silvia Federici in “Caliban and the Witch.”

Curiously, by the 18th Century the average population growth rate starts augmenting after eight thousand years of steady growth. From then onwards, this average gradually increased until reaching the unprecedented Baby Boom peak of 2.1% in 1968. Since then, the average population growth rate has lowered to 1.08% in 2019 and the projection is that it will lower to 0.1% by 2100. However, that will still bring the current world population of eight billion to eleven billion people, by then.

“Evidence from rapid anthropocentric climate change shows that 7 to 11 billion human beings make demands that cannot be met without immense harm to human and non-human beings on Earth”, says Donna Haraway in “Staying with the Trouble”, where she proposes to Make Kin Not Babies! Haraway explains that:

…babies should be rare, nourished, and precious; and relatives should be abundant, unexpected, long-lasting, and precious. Making—and recognizing—non-biological relationships is perhaps the most difficult and urgent part. We imagine the “Make Relatives” part is easier and ethically and politically sounder. It is not true! “Make Relatives” and “No Babies” are both difficult; both demand our best emotional, intellectual, artistic and political creativity, individually and collectively, across ideological and regional differences, among other differences.

The survival of our species, and others, no longer depends on the indoctrinate naturalization of reproduction as the goal and purpose of life. On the contrary, we can all be more useful to our ecosystem by caring for who and what is already living, by making the effort of nourishing what is not “us”, or ours, by blood, property, or resemblance. When I understood that making kin is a way of staying with the trouble of being born, I shifted the focus of my research towards the history of orphanages and adoption.

This shift led me to learn about wet nurses, milk kinship, mercenary breastfeeding, breastmilk donors, breastmilk banks, the breastmilk black-market that feeds the fitness world, breastmilk and lactation in porn, the obscenely cruel dairy industry, the negative impact that milk formulas had in the development of Latin American and African children in the ‘80s thanks to Nestle’s marketing of their products as better than breastmilk. In this journey I also learned about the wonders of non-gestational parents co-nursing, or adoptive breastfeeding, and the fact that anyone with developed mammary glands could potentially induce their bodies to lactate through physical or hormonal stimulation.

That is how the Milking and Pasteurization Workshop was born on the last week of my residency at HKB, with the help of design doula Roxanne Maillet, and co-parent Chico Togni. A very limited edition of healthy one square meter posters came out of the hard-working labia of an Epson printer, spitting its inkjets onto blueback coated paper for outdoor application. One by one I carefully folded my little babies into tiny A5 publications available in English and French.

Poster with instructional tips on how to encourage lactation, collect the milk, and pasteurize/store it.
Milking and Pasteurization Workshop poster (click on image to expand)

The publication is both an invitation to collect milk by bringing a multiplicity of bodies with mammary glands together, and an easy step-by-step guide to induce lactation through nipples stimulation to produce, collect, pasteurize, bottle, distribute, and consume collective human milk. This humorous exercise proposes a sustainable and solidary food utopia, made for and by our own bodies, to be distributed by an alternative exchange system developed according to the collective decision of lactating bodies of the future, free of exploitation.

The goal of this work is to break taboos around lactation, reproduction, exploitation, and consumption through a site-specific installation that brought back the history of an old milk bar at Anwandstrasse 9 in Zürich where la_cápsula is currently located.  The final presentation at ALIMENTO paid homage to the lost tradition of milk bars, especially the Polish bar mleczny (milk bar) or the state-owned советский столовая (soviet cafeterias), instituted to feed the children of working mothers by bringing care to the responsibility of the state.

Black and white photograph of an old storefront with the word "Milch" above the door.
Picture of the old milk bar at Anwandstrasse 9 in Zürich, circa 1960’s. Photo: Adriana Domínguez.

With that in mind, milch: pasteurized human milk made to nourish the future of those who have not yet digested the insult of being born, became an installation with multiple components. On the storefront, two enlarged illustration elements of the Milking and Pasteurization Workshop poster were displayed on the windows. On the left was the old milch bar logo. On the right, a woman squeezing her breast into a bottle with the help of a funnel. Below that image, eight 500ml (about 16.91 oz) milk bottles, silked screened with the milch logo and the description of its content: 100% pasteurized human milk / lait humain pasteurisé, were filled with different coloured fluids: some yellowish, some beige, others grayish, some fuller, others emptier.

Street view of a gallery exterior with the text "Milch" in one display window, and a line illustration of a woman expressing milk into a bottle in the other window.
Window installation view of milch at la_cápsula.

Inside the gallery, the Milking and Pasteurization Workshop poster was glued to the wall. To the right side of the poster, a small shelf displayed a couple of the same milch bottles from the window, this time empty of any liquid but holding a rolled-up cream coloured paper with an edited version of the workshop describing step-by-step instructions on how to fill the bottle up.

At the opening of ALIMENTO, Adriana Domínguez placed a laptop on a plinth between the poster and a shelf with empty milch bottles. On the screen of the laptop, visitors could see me drinking milk from a milch bottle that looked just like the ones that were on display inside the gallery and in the vitrine. Those who put the headphones on discovered that what was playing on the laptop was not a video, but actually me just being there with them online.

After the first jump of surprise from a visitor, others came to talk to me about their personal experiences. A young grandmother told me she had milk dripping off her nipples every time she saw her grandchildren and how hard it was to convince her daughters to let her breastfeed their babies. An older woman was curious whether it was possible to breastfeed after menopause. Some told me about the joys of lactation, others shared the difficulties they met in breastfeeding, and a few expressed their disgust with the whole proposition.

Photo of a woman in a white shirt expressing breast milk into a bottle.
Kadija Milking. Image by Chico Togni. 

Another part of the exhibition took place at the Greenhouse Art-Lab of the Zurich Sustainable Agroecosystems group. In between thick green leaves, there were two banners and a couple of half-filled milch bottles coagulating with the heat. One banner showed a sketch drawing of a giant dripping nipple, the other an anatomic drawing of a breast, which also illustrated the Milking and Pasteurization Workshop poster.

This was not the first time that I dealt with the idea of eating oneself, or our loved ones, as I have explored placentophagy, pet BBQs, and other delights in Ten Recipes for a Transgressive Banquet,[4] Call for Placenta, and other works. And of course, I am not the first artist to explore the complexities of this precious elixir that human milk is. My interest and inquiry were very much influenced, and particularly inspired, by Ine Poppe’s 1984 Dutch Mother’s Milk Cheese, and Jess Dobkin’s 2006 Lactation Station, both featured in Joanna Wolfarth’s article “The History of Breast Milk in Art” recently published in Hyperallergic.


Endnotes

[1] The Brazilian modernist poet Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago”, originally published in the first number of Resvita de Antropofagia, São Paulo, in 1928, is a major influence for many Latin American artists and particularly for a Brazilian artist like me. Here, translated by Leslie Bary as “The Cannibalist Manifesto” with introduction for the Louisiana State University Latin American Literary Review in the 1990s: Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto”

[2] Thus, the subtitle was inspired by one of Emil Cioran’s phrases from his 1974 book The Trouble with Being Born.

[3] Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie, (2019). “How has world population growth changed over time?” Published by Our World in Data.  https://ourworldindata.org/population-growth-over-time

[4] “Ten Recipes for a Transgressive Banquet” in Queer City, a Reader, published by Publication Studios São Paulo https://publicationstudio.biz/books/queer-city-a-reader-english/

Filed Under: Articles & Essays

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Kadija de Paula is a Brazilian/Canadian artist and writer who combines food, text, and performance to create situations and happenings that question the value of labor, resources and social practices.

Presence, failure, and the ancestral remediation of sound
Complicating Care (13/13)

Closing

Text by Derrais Carter, Illustrations by Paterson Hodgson

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