‘Art has been my solace’: a mother’s week with the National Art Pass
09.02.2024 - 12:36
/ Barbara Hepworth
Watching my kids respond to art is one of my favourite things. When we visit galleries, I’ll often overhear the two of them chatting about which artwork they like best (it’s usually related to whether or not it’s pink and involves a horse), or catch them using their bodies to mimic sculptures. When we took my National Art Pass on its inaugural outing to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in West Bretton, a few miles outside Wakefield, they had a field day (quite literally), cackling away as they attempted to contort themselves into the shape of Erwin Wurm’s anthropomorphised hot water bottle and incorporeal pink suits, and, rather more disturbingly, Damien Hirst’s half-skinned pregnant giant, the Virgin Mother.
Art has been my solace for as long as I can remember. When life feels overwhelming, I take myself to a gallery and flood my brain with art. Art was a large part of the inspiration for my website Bablands, a cultural resource for Londoners with children that I set up while on maternity leave in a largely selfish attempt to keep myself sane in the absence of any other creative outlet. The name Bablands is a play on the word badlands and the idea of this unwelcoming, unchartered territory, which was precisely how the world felt to me in those bleary-eyed first months of motherhood. Galleries, in particular – once spaces where I’d always felt welcome – seemed hostile now that I had a loud, handsy milk guzzler permanently in tow.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, covering some 500 acres, is very family friendly. Photographs: Joanne Crawford/The Guardian. Sculptures: Erwin Wurm, Untitled, 2018; Giant Big, Me Ideal, 2014 (top); Step (Big), 2021 (below). Courtesy Erwin Wurm, Thaddeus Ropac Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Remarks such as “please hold your child’s hand or I will have a heart attack” (from a gallery steward) and “babies don’t belong in art galleries” (from a fellow art fan) stayed with me, but also made me more determined to reclaim these spaces, and to hopefully inspire other parents and carers to do the same. Through my website and Instagram, I’ve built an incredible community of people who are as passionate as I am about finding activities they’ll enjoy as much as their kids – a desire that’s too often seen as selfish, which, when you spend every waking (and sleeping) minute with your child is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
A lot has changed since I began taking my eldest to art exhibitions. Family activities are more commonplace than they were a few years ago – especially in larger spaces. When we visited the Hepworth Wakefield, a large gallery housing many works by its namesake Barbara Hepworth, my kids were mesmerised by Hurvin Anderson’s colourful Salon Paintings, and we couldn’t believe our