New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force (NMBTF) at the forefront of harnessing the power of art

Art is multifunctional. It can be used to enhance or furnish a space, to document history, to simply fill a wall,  to convey a message or emotion or expression, to entertain. Art can do some or all of these things and more. While “art and health have been at the center of human interest from the beginning of recorded history,” the healing properties of art have only begun to be acknowledged in Western medicine in the past few decades, with art therapy first recognized as a profession in 1991. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/ ] 

Photo by Luiza Braun on Unsplash

The New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force (NMBTF) is at the forefront of harnessing the power of art. Recognizing that art is medicine, the task force includes supporting lactation and breastfeeding/chestfeeding through art as a priority initiative, providing scholarships to chapters that take on the initiative.  

“We are  leaders in acknowledging how much art means to our communities,” says NMBTF Core Team Leader Siboney A. Rodriguez-Gallegos, LMSW, CLC. “When we can put those skills to paper or canvas or wall or bench or city bus, I think that we’re just barely starting to explore what can be done with that. I am really proud of our chapters.” 

In Valencia County, April Vasquez and Rosa Sisneros and other team members are working with artist Ana June to create the outline of a mural which will be painted collectively by community members on August 6. The unveiling of the mural will be held August 13. 

“We want to include the community as much as we can with this project,” Vasquez shares. 

She goes on to give a shoutout to University of New Mexico Valencia Assistant Professor of Fine Arts Sarah Heyward who has donated paint and other supplies for this project as well as thanking the property owners who have donated space for the mural to be displayed.  

The imagery is being created on a large canvas making the art moveable and less likely to be destroyed when building ownership changes or buildings are razed, like a past mural project by Betsy Casanos which was painted over when building ownership changed. Putting the art on canvas also allows for reprinting so that the art can be shared on other products and disseminated more widely, Rodriguez-Gallegos explains. 

Former mural that was painted over when building ownership changed. https://www.facebook.com/NMBFING/photos/gm.278067862815360/1881191575312766/

“It’s so exciting,” Vasquez begins. “There were a bunch of emotions getting it together… It’s happening!”  

Further south, Las Cruces County Chapter co-chairs Dr. Martha Morales and Melissa Marie Lopez and members are working with artist Kate Pults. This mural too is being created on canvas to avoid its potential demise on a fixed structure.  

Pults holds families, mothers and babies in many ways and we are thrilled to have her put those gifts in art form,” Rodriguez-Gallegos  shares. 

NMBTF has sponsored past mural projects here, here and here. An extension of the projects, you can find corresponding coloring pages of the murals here

The coloring pages are often distributed at community outreach events and in hospital settings like the antepartum unit and for parents who have babies in the NICU.

There is ample research that demonstrates the influential nature of imagery and how representation matters. (Explore some of those pieces here and here.) This is especially true as the baby milk substitute (BMS) industry advances their marketing tactics, and as we continue to navigate the COVID pandemic. 

Rodriguez says she sees these projects as a way to “reinvigorate the normalization of breastfeeding.”  

On August 31,  NMBTF will present the Lactation Art Gallery and Auction. Artists should submit their work by August 1. Find more information here.  

You can support NMBTF’s work by becoming a member or joining a chapter. Those interested can also donate monetarily to a variety of efforts. Find NMBTF across various social media platforms to help spread the word about the work they’re doing. 

Rodriguez shares her gratitude and pride in some closing thoughts: “All of our chapters put so much heart into the work that they do. It feels really good to be able to support [them]. The task force is really heading in a new direction to ensure we’re coming from an equitable lens, supporting our families, communities and wellness.” 

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