Sian Davey, Looking for Alice

Project | Looking for Alice

An illustration of family life – all the tensions, joys and ups and downs that goes with the territory of being in a family.

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Artist’s statement.

This series is an illustration of family life – all the tensions, joys and ups and downs that goes with the territory of being in a family.  My family is a microcosm for the dynamics occurring in many other families. We are no different.  As a psychotherapist I have listened to many stories.  It is interesting that what has been revealed to me after fifteen years of practice is not how different we are to one another but rather how alike we are.  It is what we share that is significant.  The stories vary but we all share the same emotions, we are all vulnerable to feelings of anger, grief, depression and so on.

My daughter Alice was born with Downs Syndrome but, fundamentally, she is no different to any other human being.  She feels what you and I feel, she needs what you and I need.  However, our society does not acknowledge this, and her very existence is given little or no value. Alice has entered a world where routine genetic screening at twelve weeks gestation is entirely weighted towards birth prevention, rather than birth preparation.  Whilst we make our selection and decisions in private, the effect on society is that in the UK, the latest figures (in 2014) tell us that ninety two per cent of Downs Syndrome babies are terminated at the pre-natal screening stage. Even prior to the introduction of screening, children such as Alice would have been severely marginalised and often institutionalised and given little or limited medical care.

I was deeply shocked when Alice was born as an ‘imperfect’ baby.  It was not what I had expected.  Our first experiences in hospital did little to diffuse this.  The paediatrician pulled back her legs, pushed her thumbs deep into Alice’s groin, and promptly announced that we should take Alice home and treat her like any other baby.  But she didn’t feel like any other baby, and I was fraught with anxiety that rippled though to every aspect of my relationship with her.  My anxieties penetrated my dreams.  I dreamt that Alice was swaddled in a blanket and that I had forgotten all about her.  I unwrapped the tight bundle that she was nestled in, to feed her, only to discover that she was covered in a white fluid – a fluid of neglect … and yet I was unable to feed her, unable to respond to her basic needs.

On reflection I saw that Alice was feeling my rejection of her, and that caused me further pain.  I saw that the responsibility lay with me; I had to dig deep into my own prejudices and shine a light on them. The result was that as my fear dissolved I fell in love with my daughter.  We all did.

I was once asked who is my audience for this work. I cannot tell you except that it if I was to define it, I would say that it is to do with love, a universally experienced longed for thing that people or perhaps everyone would recognise.

This project is for her, for Alice.

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© Images and text: Sian Davey.

Artist’s website:

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Click on any picture below to look at the project. Full screen mode is recommended.

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