Lismore artist Aris Prabawa, a finalist in the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize, with his subject, midwife Sue Cookson.
Lismore artist Aris Prabawa, a finalist in the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize, with his subject, midwife Sue Cookson.

Home birth inspires artist

There’s nothing quite like the sensation of seeing your own portrait, and as midwife Sue Cookson gazes at her painted image, she’s choked almost to tears.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” Sue said.

Sue is a regular visitor to artist Aris Prabawa’s house, where 11 months ago she helped Aris and his partner Jade give birth to their son, Django.

He chose to paint Sue’s portrait for the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize, with her in the foreground and himself and Jade in the background holding Django in the birth pool. It’s a beautiful depiction of Sue, but she said she sees more than just herself in the face staring back at her.

“I guess what I feel he’s captured is the strength and courage that midwives carry with us when we go to a birth,” Sue said. “I see in that painting all the other midwives who have helped me become the midwife I am and all the midwives down the years who came before me. Aris has really captured a great depth of knowledge in those eyes.”

Sue said she didn’t choose to be a midwife – it chose her.

“I had my first child at home in 1980 and I was struck with this overwhelming feeling I had to help other women have home births too,” Sue said. “It’s a very intimate thing to be part of, a very sacred and special time. It’s a real honour for me.”

Aris, who is originally from Indonesia where he was part of an artists’ collective heavily involved in social activism, has only the highest praise for Sue’s midwifery skills.

“In my country you hardly see people giving birth at home, they think the hospital is the safest place, but I really wanted to be here in our home environment,” he said. “I’d never experienced a birth before and Sue was fantastic… she encouraged me to catch the baby in the water and it was amazing.”

“I always say it’s the couple that got it in there so it’s the couple that’s got to get it out,” Sue laughed. “They both delivered him beautifully.”

Aris recently discovered he is a finalist in the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize, which opens at the Lismore Regional Gallery on April 23 with the announcement of the $7500 first prize.

“I’m so happy,” Aris said. “I had my fingers crossed.”

While it’s obviously a deeply personal painting, Aris said it does have a political message. He said her chose Sue for the portrait as a symbol of his support for midwifery services and giving women the choice to birth at home. And because he values her friendship.

“There is a special relationship that often exists when you go through such a wonderful experience as a birth with someone,” Sue said.

“Since the birthing experience Sue and I have become very close,” Aris agreed. “She’ll come and have a cup of tea and we’ll talk about everything.”


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