Collection 1880s–1940s

Elizabeth Catlett. Mother and Child. 1956 560

Terra cotta, 11 1/4 x 7 x 7" (28.6 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm). Gift of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art, The Modern Women's Fund, and Dr. Alfred Gold (by exchange)

Writer, K. Melchor Quick Hall: I’m Melchor Hall, a caregiver, popular educator, writer, and sometimes poet.

Mother and Child was produced in 1956 by Elizabeth Catlett, an African American woman born and raised in Washington, DC. I was also born a Black woman in the nation’s capital and am honored to talk about this piece.

It is a sculpture of a mother who knows how to make her body into a comfortable seat for a small child familiar to her. The right foot with heel raised and toes spread is an anchor. She is curving her body in an embrace that creates home, that allows the child to rest. I see the look of satisfaction on her face. I look at the child resting, and I think, this is a picture of what it looks like when we've created an environment where someone can parent safely and healthily.

This idea is one of the most important parts of something called reproductive justice. In the text Reproductive Justice: An Introduction by Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger, they define it as follows: reproductive justice goes beyond the pro-choice, pro-life debate and has three primary principles: the right not to have a child, the right to have a child, and the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments.

This sculpture is evidence of a kind of ease that would’ve been, and still is today, hard to imagine in a lot of places. So I think that It's an opportunity to really reflect on the kind of humanity we want to co-create in the world.