Dea Nutrix

These are verbatim transcripts of interviews, reflecting spoken rather than written language.

INTERVIEWER: So today is the 25th of January 2022, and I am Natalie McGrath, and I’m here to do a story interview for Out and About: Queering the Museum at RAMM. And I am interviewing Josie Sutcliffe. Hello Josie. 

PARTICIPANT 1: Hello Natalie. 



PARTICIPANT 1: Thank you. 


INTERVIEWER: So we’re asking everyone to choose an object that they connect to at the museum. So can you tell us what object you have chosen? And can you describe it to us? 

PARTICIPANT 1: Yes. I have chosen a small ceramic figurine. It is of a headless person nursing two children at her breast. So this is a fertility goddess, the Dea Nutrix. And there were lots of these figurines around, but apparently this one was found in Devon. I’ve always been interested in… well the way it looks, its head’s missing. And this is kind of classic as well. I know that they seem to think that it might have been knocked off on purpose. Who knows? These are the kind of assumptions made about historical objects. They might have been lost in all kind of ways. But perhaps there was misogyny rife at that time as well. Who knows? So it portrays a figure clutching two small… two babies to their breasts. And I didn’t realise that figurine was sitting, but the description in the museum says that the figure is sitting in a wicker chair. Which I’ll talk about a little bit later, but the wicker chair has some thoughts for me as well, holds some thoughts for me. 


So it’s a very pale colour, it’s not dark. It’s… and it’s really small, it’s about… I don’t know… 8 centimetres, something like that perhaps. So I wondered whether it was able to fit almost anywhere. Because it was a fertility symbol, a woman might carry it in her pocket, or in her person somewhere. I know that my daughter sent me a figurine from the Amazon, which was a fertility symbol. This was black, actually made out of a black stone. Carved from a black stone. And it was small enough, is small enough, to put in your pocket and to carry with you, or to keep with you, or to put by the side of you where you’re working or whatever. It contains all the hopes I suppose of whoever wanted, either to bear fruit in some way. So I quite like the idea of the fertility aspect of it. But I also love the idea of carving out of something quite small, which would’ve been just a small piece of ceramic, or cast, because they do look quite similar. There are similar ones around. It follows a shape all over Europe, this shape exists. And I rather like that idea as well. 


INTERVIEWER: So if there was one… if you could identify one thing that really drew you to this object, you’ve kind of talked about several things that have interested you in it. But what initially drew you to choose this object for this project? 

PARTICIPANT 1: Well I think… I think the major thing, apart from the fact that it’s about a nurturing and succour, if you like, feeding or taking care of. I think the biggest thing for me was, this would be an object that not many people would think was something that somebody from the LGBTQ community would be drawn to. But actually, in a way, it covers… the fact that there are women who have given birth, and have nurtured children, who are also from that community, is quite big for me. And I know that I felt this because of the pull and the tension, the conflict, between being a woman who had children naturally, if you like, not IVF or anything like that, but… and who was also a gay woman. Or I was bisexual, if you like. And I recall being very anxious that I might lose my children because of the laws and the bias and the prejudice that was around in the ’70s when I had my children. 


That it was very difficult for a woman who was an out gay woman, for instance, or out bi, or out lesbian, who would be able to keep her children if she had a divorce from her husband. And I know the effect that that had on me. So there’s something about my experience, our… the experience of women who have children, and are also lesbian or bisexual, or pansexual. Whatever they may be. That they are often overlooked. You very rarely see pictures of lesbian women with children. It tends to be something that, you know, doesn’t happen. So that was I think the biggest thing. I thought, that’s my experience. And also as a lesbian and bi woman. So I think that was the biggest thing. But for me it isn’t just about babies, it’s about bountifulness and caregiving. Which any woman is able to be. That nurturing thing. Yes. It doesn’t mean that only heterosexual women have that. And I think that’s something that I wanted to lay claim to. Say, I am this and I am also this.  


INTERVIEWER: Yeah, great, thank you. And can you… you talk a bit more about that nurturing and the care, kind of… because I think that’s really important. That we think about that now. 

PARTICIPANT 1: Yes. I think that there are… the sense of nurturing, I think that sometimes my experience has been that, my own experience has been one of being… of feeling that, in some way, one needed to step away from nurturing in order to be a political activist, if you like. A lesbian or bisexual activist. That there was something much harder about that, and much less focussed on nurturing. There was something too emotional about being a nurturing, caring woman, with all those kind of, you know, big breasts and large stomach, and big hips. All those symbols portray that kind of sense of woman as the producer of nurture and care and fertility. And it felt to me that it became much harder to hold the two parts of myself. One which was, yeah, political activist, if you like. And one which was the caregiver. 


And I believe that that’s an erosion, if you like, of the way… whatever sexuality you espouse, of something else that sits in the human being, which is… in any human being. Which is to do with care and love, actually. And love for all. And I think that’s something that I… yes, I think this object kind of strikes me because it’s also so historical, it’s so old. And it dates from way beyond, you know, social media or any of those things that tell us how we should be and how we should behave, and how we should look and what we should do. That there’s a kind of, there’s a sense that, way back, you could be anything. Perhaps. 


INTERVIEWER: I’d like to imagine that there was those possibilities. I mean, that captures the essence of this project, and that idea that we were always here, with all our multiple strands to our identities. And yeah… 

PARTICIPANT 1: That’s right. And I think that these Dea Nutrix, if you like, and other symbols around that, were not… maybe they didn’t have, you know, IVF. And so you know, children might have to have been conceived in all kinds of ways. But that doesn’t mean that those women didn’t have other lives and other loves. And other things that they felt and experienced. And I think we miss… if we miss out those possibilities I think it’s a shame. Because you know, we didn’t suddenly arrive with the… I don’t know. In the 1900s or whenever. I mean, women have been caring for other women and loving other women for a long time. As well as loving men, and loving children, and loving other human beings, and loving their elders and loving their… so you know, I think it does… this little figurine threw up all kinds of things for me, I think. It certainly… you know, my daughter has twins. And so she breastfed both of them at the same time. And I know how difficult that was also. So… sitting in a nice wicker chair, there’s a sense that this was easy or this was something that she might have done. But actually, behind it, is the knowledge that I now have of how difficult that is. I haven’t had twins, so… 


But that any woman with twins will be… or more… will be experiencing, just being able to sit and rest, and feed. That’s quite something. But I do think that there’s too much stigma and judgment about whether women have babies or don’t have babies. Or whether they, you know, what that makes you. Whether that makes you a good person or not a good person. Whether you’re a good mother or not a good mother. There are so many judgments made. And in a way, just you know, making a figurine which just… that is a small representation of love actually, and care, and nurture, is something that I want to claim. That I have a right to claim. But I think every woman has a right to claim it too, because every woman is surrounded by other women who are doing this. Whether they are doing it personally or not. 


INTERVIEWER: Yeah, thank you. Do you think that another LGBTQ+ person would connect with this object? 

PARTICIPANT 1: I have no idea. I think… I don’t know, because… perhaps not. But perhaps, you know, my story isn’t unique. And there will be other women who have had children and are also, in many different ways, in relationships where they nurture and care. And perhaps they will see that in it. I hope so. 


INTERVIEWER: Thank you. How do you feel about having your voice represented in the museum? 

PARTICIPANT 1: I think it’s good. I think, you know, stories by individuals, there is a unique quality to them. But there’s also a universal quality, once you’ve shared your voices out there, and you’re saying what things mean to you. They’re not just, you know, behind glass and have a little written statement. They have a connection that is being made, and perhaps that’s something that might promote thought in other people. Say, perhaps I’ll look at some things differently, and wonder what those objects, that object, might mean to me. 


INTERVIEWER: Yeah. It’s interesting, those kind of layers of resonances that an object, we think, perhaps that there’s one narrative. And actually, listening to you, you’re bringing lots of different kind of possibilities to that object. And maybe we think it anew. 

PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah. I think there’s something about fetish objects from the past, or from other cultures, I’ve always been interested in the indigenous people of North America. Their fetish carvings. Tiny little objects that they carve… that they see something in a stone or clay, that they make into animals. The shape of animals. They highlight the shape of animals. Those animals mean something to them and to their culture. They’re not just a bear or not just an eagle or something. But each object has some quality of thought that is human. So our connection keeps going on. And I really like that idea too, that when we see a connection in something that isn’t now, and it’s made with new techniques, but it tells us something. It can tell us some story, perhaps from the past, or something that connects with our experience now. And that’s what the Dea Nutrix has done for me. 


INTERVIEWER: Thank you. What’s the importance for you of this project? 

PARTICIPANT 1: Well I think it’s great because there is so much invisibility. And it’s tough, you know, coming out from behind… that’s the other thing I think, that in a way these babies and this woman in this chair, have come out from the ceramic, out from the stone, out from those things. And they’re kind of bursting out. And I think there’s something about our experience. The LGBTQ experience, coming out as well. Again, constantly. But you know, pushing out and sort of saying, look at this. Look at this another time. And see if you can see every human being in there. Where does it connect to every human being? Not even just women, this one, but you know, the… yeah, everybody. And I think that that connection is really important. When we stop having to, you know, shout about it or raise our voices, or parade in the streets, then we’ll know that it’ll have worked. 


INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Is there anything that you feel like you would like… that you haven’t said that comes to mind, that you would like to say? 

PARTICIPANT 1: I think that I’ve probably said plenty. I don’t know… I don’t know, I think the thing is, as I keep seeing it and looking at it, the object, and thinking about it, I think about my own life, of course. And I think about other people’s lives, and my children and my grandchildren, and my mother and her mother. And back along all my ancestors. And I think that there’s something about celebrating our uniqueness and our individuality, but also what we offer the world in terms of that nurturing. I’ve been nurtured by ancestors and otherwise I wouldn’t be here. And celebrating that uniqueness, rather than conforming to one idea of what we are as a human being. I think that’s the last thing that I wanted to say about this object, was that for me it was about non-conformity. And not… and not staying with the accepted, you know, culture of what we can be and what we are. Because I know that’s just not true. 


INTERVIEWER: I think that’s a wonderful note to conclude on. Thank you so much, Josie. 

PARTICIPANT 1: Thank you. 

[00:20:08] End of Transcript.