Mother and Child Juniper Fleming

Juniper Fleming

Mother and Child, 2014, Silver gelatin print, oil paint, 48.26 x 76.2 cm, Collection of the Artist, © Juniper Fleming; photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Untold Roles

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In Juniper Fleming’s photograph, a small girl feeds cherries to her mother, who lounges against an opulent background. The photograph is a contemporary reimagining of Frederic Leighton’s 1865 painting Mother and Child (Cherries) (Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery).

The work that Leighton was producing in the 1860s played an important role in contemporary debates about the nature and value of art and aesthetic pleasure. Critics disagreed about whether his depictions of quiet, seemingly aimless moments represented a triumph of artistic skill and beauty or a troublingly amoral and dangerously lazy celebration of doing nothing.

These discussions do not appear to have considered the work being done in Leighton’s paintings by his models (Prettejohn 1996).

The series of photographs by Fleming from which this work is taken, Reclamation and Dis/Atonement, recreates canonical Western depictions of women. Fleming worked with her models—who were sex workers like Fleming herself—to highlight the often hidden role played by sex workers—as models and muses—in creating Western ideals of feminine beauty.

Biblical narratives of ‘sexually deviant’ women such as Tamar often express anxiety about the transmission of inheritance from father to son. Biblical and contemporary worries about women’s sexual purity cannot be disentangled from a patriarchal logic of paternal inheritance. In taking her fate into her own hands and risking her life to secure property—first Judah’s staff and seal and then his sons—Tamar makes herself, however briefly, the centre of her own world, the agent of her own destiny. In this, she is like Fleming, who writes: ‘The world made me a sex worker, but sex work is also how I make the world’ (Fleming).

The poet and scholar of Jewish thought Ruth Kaniel sees Tamar’s story as part of a lineage of sexually transgressive ‘mothers of the messiah’ which runs throughout the Hebrew Bible, beginning with the incestuous daughters of Lot and culminating redemptively in the story of Ruth, whose love for Naomi gives us an image of love and care between women (Kaniel 2017). The scriptural text never shows Tamar interacting with other women, but perhaps Fleming’s image allows us an imaginary glimpse behind the scenes of the story.



Fleming, Juniper. n.d. ‘Reclamation and (Dis)atonement’, available at: [accessed 22 April 2021]

Kaniel, Ruth Kara-Ivanov. 2017. Holiness and Transgression: Mothers of the Messiah in the Jewish Myth (Boston: Academic Studies Press)

Prettejohn, Elizabeth. 1996. ‘Morality Versus Aesthetics in Critical Interpretations of Frederic Leighton 1855–75’, The Burlington Magazine, 138: 79–86


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