Mother and Child (Divided) by Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst

Mother and Child (Divided)–Installed at Tate Modern, 2012, Exhibition Copy 2007 (original 1993)–Installed at Tate Modern, 2012, Glass, painted stainless steel, silicone, acrylic, monofilament, stainless steel, cow, calf and formaldehyde solution, Two parts, each (calf): 113.6 x 168.9 x 62.2 cm; Two parts, each (cow): 208.6 x 322.5 x 109.2 cm, Tate, T12751, © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved DACS / Artimage, London and ARS, NY 2018. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

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Our First Mourning Mother

Commentary by

Damien Hirst’s Mother and Child (Divided) arguably confronts us with a stark subversion of traditional artistic representations of the Holy Mother, Mary, and Child, Jesus.

The work might be described as a bisected mother cow and her calf, separated for eternity, preserved at a painful distance from one another, suspended in formaldehyde. These are unavoidably mortal bodies, representing both the potential of life in their parent–child connection, but also the inescapability of death. Yet, in creating this visceral and moving piece of work that could be interpreted as challenging idealized images of holy maternity, Hirst seems to produce a profound meditation on maternal suffering that in many ways embodies the experience of the first mother, Eve.

This image appears to speak of the fracturing of community, love, and identity that is central to the story of the first human couple in Genesis 2–4, and in particular for the first woman as she is described in Genesis 3:16 and 3:20. In these texts, following her consumption of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Bad, Eve becomes alienated. She is alienated from the man who is with her: he will now ‘rule over her’. She is alienated from her maternal body: she will now give birth in pain. And she is alienated from God: she is now barred from his Garden.

In particular, I believe Eve’s ‘pain in childbearing’ (v.16) is illuminated through Mother and Child (Divided). Although traditionally the pain that she is to endure during childbirth has been associated with physical labour, the Hebrew word issabon—from which the translations ‘pain’ or ‘pangs’ are taken—is more closely associated with the existential struggle of motherhood. This is the kind of sorrow that is alluded to in Genesis 4 when Eve’s first son, Cain, murders her second son, Abel. Although the biblical text provides no details of the pain Eve would have endured at this rupture in her family, reading this chapter of the Bible alongside Hirst’s image might encourage us to empathize with the first woman.



Manchester, Elizabeth. 2009. ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’, [accessed 26 October 2018]

Meyers, Carol. 1988. Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford University Press)

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