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Bonkers Over Belly Art

Pregnant and looking for an artsy reminder of those last round months? Belly Art might be the thing. A Berlin artist creates plaster models of the swollen tummy right down to the exact form of the bellybutton.


Big is beautiful

It might not be everyone's idea of pepping up their living room, but for many expectant mothers, hanging up a vibrant plaster model of their bulging bellies and heavy breasts has a certain nostalgic appeal.

After all, once they've given birth and their abdomens have returned to their normal size, few women can actually imagine how immense they'd once grown.

Berlin-based artist Anja Höppner's plaster models serve as a vivid reminder of those long months spent feeling like a beached whale while they pay a unusual homage to motherhood.

Anja Maria Höppner Bellyart - Kunst am Bauch

Anja Maria Höppner

Höppner (photo), a mother herself, said she hit upon the idea during a stay in the U.S. four years ago. "There it's usual for women to celebrate their pregnancies with baby showers and share their happiness," the 37-year-old told DW-WORLD.

Pregnant is beautiful

Influenced by American artist Kiki Smith, who created a clay-and-plaster work of a heavily pregnant female belly and the late Niki de Saint Phalle, better known for her bright sculptures of Rubenesque women known as "Nanas," Höppner said she wants to create more awareness for the beauty of the pregnant female form.

"I generally think that women aren't appreciated enough in western societies for all the pain they have to go through to give birth," Höppner said. "But in every mythology you find portrayals of fertility goddesses. Roundness and fullness stands for feminism, it's a part of female sexuality -- it shouldn't be hidden or become a taboo."

A plaster bath

For those prepared to flaunt their pregnant pride, the process involves sitting on an armless chair in Höppner's studio and having the belly and breasts covered with a special modeling plaster. The ideal time is in the 8th or 9th month, said Höppner. Some women get along their partners, to get an imprint of his hand on their stomachs in the final copy.

Anja Maria Höppner Bellyart - Kunst am Bauch

Anja Maria Höppner, Bellyart

Once the plaster dries, the expectant mother has a real plaster copy in her hands, right down to the swollen bellybutton and nipples. Höppner then paints over the white models using acrylics. Motifs include wild flowers, abstract exotic animals and vivid designs. The models cost between €70 and €250.

For those who can't make it to Höppner's studio, the artist has complied a "do it yourself" kti that can be ordered online. It includes the modeling material, instructions and a photo album.

"The plaster models are better than photographs because they're three dimensional. For the first time women, who until then have only seen themselves in the mirror, can look at themselves from a different perspective," Höppner said.

"I love my belly mask"

The belly art might sound self-indulgent to some or just too messy. But judging by the reaction of customers on Höppner's website, the final result seems to be worth the trouble.

"I love my belly mask," says 27-year-old Carla. "We created quite a mess, but it was fun. When we have visitors over, the mask is the main topic of conversation."

Alexander, 28, gave the kit to his pregnant girlfriend as a gift. "It was a cool idea. She enjoyed it when I and our young son made the model for her. Now it's hanging in the children's room as a reminder."

Höppner, who's self-employed and says she's made some 300 plaster bellies so far, remembers when it was tough finding investors and convincing the bank to give her a loan for what most considered a "crazy idea." "They all told me nobody wanted to see those kind of abnormal proportions," Höppner said.

Ozeania 2000 Anja Maria Höppner Bellyart - Kunst am Bauch

Anja Maria Höppner, Bellyart

Those doubts have been laid to rest. Höppner's gaily painted tummy masks don't just adorn private living rooms and bedrooms, but also waiting rooms at gynecological and obstetrician clinics. She's also displayed her works at exhibitions.

Battle against "siliconization"

Apart from being a celebration of motherhood, the plaster belly specialist also views her work as a crusade against the "silconization" of women. "Everywhere you look on posters or advertisements you have these perfectly slim women with silicon breasts. But the fact is that women are made to bear children and in the process have fleshier thighs and look heavy," said Höppner. "It's okay to be that way -- that's the point."

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