“In the midst of all the vulnerability…they tell you to ‘stay desirable’”: Andi Galdi rallies against the monolithic, romantic narratives surrounding motherhood

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Among illustrating the emotional and chaotic reality of becoming a mother, Galdi’s new book – Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back – is ultimately a story of unconditional love

“Every image in the book represents a feeling,” says Andi Galdi. “In fact, the book isn’t organised chronologically, but led by emotions.” With 224 pages, the images form a raw, fleshy, sticky, bulbous, euphoric story of motherhood and the birth of Galdi’s first child. Joy is juxtaposed with fear, tenderness with exhaustion. In one image, a swan is pictured from above, with its head dunked under the water. She unpacks it: “When [the kids] are screaming in the car, and you get out, and you close the door. Before you take them out, there’s silence. And for a second, they’re in the car screaming, but you’re free.” In another, the baby is pictured from below, held under a circular lamp that, from this angle, imitates a glowing halo framing its head. Among the candid chaos, there is unconditional love and, “what you gain in all those little moments that makes it all worth it”. 

“I think it is especially hard for the creative people to become parents and lose the passion for everything else for a while. The shift of identity and the strength of energy to create.”

 

Titled Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back, published by Trolley Books, the book celebrates the need for an honest conversation surrounding the messiness and contradiction that comes with becoming a mother. It rallies against the expectation to constantly maintain an unrealistic vision of strength, joy, and empowerment before, during and after pregnancy. “In the midst of all the vulnerability, the pain, the tiredness and mess, they tell you: ‘Remember to stay desirable too, so your partner sees the same woman he fell in love with.’ How should I stay mysterious? I’m bleeding, leaking.” 

As an artist, Galdi felt an immense shift in identity when she had her baby. She gained a new persona, with new responsibilities, pulling her away from a practice of prolific creativity. “I think it is especially hard for the creative people to become parents and lose the passion for everything else for a while,” she says. “The shift of identity and the strength of energy to create.” She wants to normalise these experiences, so that mothers never feel that they are failing, and are able to enjoy the early precious moments with their newborns without the added pressure of productivity. The book creates a space where that vulnerability can be shared.

“I’m not the first one to talk about it, but for some reason my voice is having a moment,” says Galdi. “And I’m really happy that it is. No one tells you how to do it the right way. Even though I had an incredible support system around me, you’re really alone when this happens. You can’t prepare for [motherhood], however much you read.”

With a foreword written by friend and mothering companion, Charlotte Jansen, the book is just larger than A6 in size with an exposed spine. Designed by Emma Scott-Child, the images are printed on an array of textured paper stocks. “The size of it is meant to fit in a woman’s bag,” Galdi explains. “I want it to be like a Bible that you can pass down to your best friend, to your daughter. Like a codex for mothers and parents.”

 

“Irony is a way of surviving and coping with reality. Every human being has a mother. So when you look at this book, you will know how much your parents have done for you.”

 

As I became acquainted with Galdi’s book, I showed it to my sister-in-law, who has two small children aged three and five. As she turned the pages, every so often she let out a subtle exhale and nodded her head in compassion and understanding. She repeats the words, “Where is my village” written in red marker somewhere in the middle. She also smiles, saying: “Yes, this is it,” pointing to the image of Galdi’s baby crawling towards her as she sits on the loo, and the overflowing, pooey nappy, and the baby dragging itself out of the frame leaving behind a snail-trail of a pee stain on the bed sheet.

The use of candid humour and creativity is an important part of the storytelling. It is the giggle, and the sigh that follows the long, reassuring hug. “Irony is a way of surviving and coping with reality,” says Galdi. “Every human being has a mother. So when you look at this book, you will know how much your parents have done for you.”

Galdi is in the midst of a tour of book launches around Europe. The Hungarian artist has already held events at Unseen Amsterdam with Erika Deak Gallery, TJ Boulting in London, BOP in Bristol and the Martin Parr Foundation. This weekend, she will also be presenting her book at Paris Photo on 12 November, at the TJ Boulting booth, and at Rupture et Associes (Paris) on 10 November.

Our conversation turns to the question of success and timing. The images in the book were made six years ago. Yet, back then, the audience that so enthusiastically receives it today was not as open to the idea. “In the beginning I was told, it’s just temporary, you’ll get over it, and to carry on with making ‘art’,” she recalls. Perhaps it is due to a change in attitude and openness that followed the Covid-19 lockdown, that people speak more openly about difficult, personal experiences. “[The pandemic] made people more vulnerable and more honest, maybe. Many people resonate with my book, whether they have children or not.” Perhaps it is a sign of an expanding space where motherhood and childbirth is seen for all its complexity, without an unnecessary, one-dimensional romanticisation of the experience. Or, that more people are willing to listen. 

“My dream for this book is to show people it’s ok and to help them feel that they’re not alone.”

 

So is this success, a breakthrough? For Galdi, it is important for the book to be seen in traditional spaces like galleries and museum shops; she hopes that she can show the work as an interactive exhibition soon. She believes that only through introducing it into a wider archive, will the book’s message be validated and have a chance at making a valuable contribution to the artistic canon, and widespread sentiment and education. “If I could print another million copies I would send this book to every school in all the world. A book in every library,” she says.

Ultimately, though, the book has a clear purpose. “If my book raises conversations and questions people’s certainty about what they think is right or not… For every time this book made someone smile, I would be so happy. My dream for this book is to show people it’s ok and to help them feel that they’re not alone.” She adds: “I want to see it on a nightstand. My friend texted me to say that she fell asleep with the book. That’s what I want.”

Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared but now I’m Back by Andi Galdi is published by Trolley Books, with a foreword by Charlotte Jansen.

The photographer will be signing copies of the book at Rupture e Associes, Paris on 10 November and the TJ Boulting booth, Paris Photo, on 12 November

Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.