2020 Masters of Arts in Teaching Thesis Exhibition

Salem State University

Alicia Mulcahy

Failure to Thrive

Acrylic on canvas,
11”x14”, 2020

Alicia Mulcahy

Alicia Mulcahy

Masters of Arts in Teaching, 2020

Twenty-Three Days of Medically Advised Motherhood 

As an artist I have always found the need to communicate my experienced emotions throughout the artistic process with the audience. In this case, the series of paintings before you encapsulate the maternal void I experienced during our four-month old son’s 23-day hospital stay. The child-friendly colors mock the grief felt with the restrictions put on my maternal instincts, every decision I made for our son was superseded by doctors’ recommendations.

The paradoxical symbolic forms in these paintings embody the innocence of childhood and the helplessness felt at not being able to care for our son as he underwent medical treatment. Cody tested positive for respiratory syncytial virus, but the focus quickly turned to a dismal diagnosis of “failure to thrive” prematurely ending my breastfeeding journey and introducing the dreaded “f” word: formula. I was being deprived the most natural part of nurturing an infant. 

In an attempt to find out why Cody always breathed so shallowly and so rapidly, a series of sixteen tests and procedures were performed. The last procedure was by far the most difficult. This grid of twelve visceral images serves as an intriguing background, but for me, they are haunting snapshots of my son I never wanted to see. Photographs that will never make the baby book. They are the results of the endoscopic evaluation, yet another procedure yielding inconclusive results.

The instinctual torch was handed back to me upon our discharge and while I’m still trying to navigate these decisions without doctors, that torch will also take the form of a paintbrush. It is in the creative process where I find my voice, my strength and my passion. Connecting my role as artist and mother in these paintings allows me to nurture the relationship with my son as well as with my art.