The joy and the pain


I spent part of my weekend at the Severance exhibition at Family Futures in Islington. If I write this quickly enough and you happen to live in London and are interested in adoption, I would thoroughly recommend you pop along.

Severance is the brainchild of Amanda Boorman, director of The Open Nest, a charity that represents the experiences of adopters, adoptees and birth families and encourages an ongoing and creative dialogue between them and the professionals who control and guide us through the adoption process.

It is this creativity and openness that separates The Open Nest from most of the other adoption support charities, all of which have their place but none other of whom have moved much beyond the blog to actively encourage artistic expression around the topic of adoption by and for the people it most affects.

Amanda and a team of dedicated friends and colleagues have collated – and continue to collate and show around the UK – a remarkable selection of paintings, graphic images, photographs, films, installations, tapestry and sculpture – which offer a poignant, no-holds-barred view of adoption as it is experienced by artists who are also part of an adoptive family.

You are welcomed into the space by huge storks with ceramic heads attempting to carry ceramic babies wrapped in muslin out of a bureaucratic landscape tied up with red tape; further in, a series of framed hand-scrawled spider diagrams call on a mum to ring the crisis team. There’s a half-finished tapestry version of another child’s note embroidered with the words ‘I’m stupid, I hate me’ and a life-size child made entirely from bags.

As well as showing the warts-and-all side, these and many of the other exhibits are also poignant and beautiful. A vintage dressing table covered in tiny storks delivering babies recalls many adopters’ long-lost fantasy of birth children; A recreated kitchen piled high with half a century’s different washing powders reflects the overwhelming barrage of new smells and other ‘familiar’ experiences which adopted and fostered children are subjected to each time they move on. A looped film relives the very real moment when an adoptee meets her birth parents again in a dark corridor…

For my family, this trip was also an opportunity to re-visit Family Futures, the place where we started learning to heal and which has already helped our family immeasurably. Ironically or not, a lot of our therapy there was arts-based and it was there we last made our own family installations, sculptures, films, drama, paintings and music. Apart from anything else it was just wonderful to sip Earl Grey tea, drink juice and chomp on biscuits in that special place with our lovely therapist and chat with her and other adopters and adoptees about everything from art and politics to the challenge of curly hair for the straight haired parent.

Being there this weekend has made me want to envision, create and share more of our experience. Try to see this extraordinary show as it makes it way around the country. Better still, book it into your local gallery, school, library, anywhere that will display it. As it gathers pieces and its own momentum, it can only inspire more understanding and support for those whose life is in some way affected by adoption – and one way or another, that’s most of us.

‘Severance’ is at Family Futures, Floral Place, London N1, 11am-6pm, 15/16 November 2014.