My experience as a volunteer and later as an intern at Niffo Gallery / Recycle Studio – a gallery with a societal and educational function for the Afrikaanderwijk neighbourhood in Rotterdam – sparked my interest in the value commonly ascribed to ‘reproductive’ tasks such as cleaning, grocery shopping and welcoming visitors in the cultural, care and service sectors. I see my research as being part of a larger societal discussion. In the first months of the pandemic, the workers with the most precarious positions at art institutions were fired or put on furlough.

We need to recognize the ways that art institutions make reproductive labour disposable, which affects the extent to which those workers matter and are appreciated, whether they are platform-mediated, flex workers contracted through an employment agency, specifically trained museum cleaners, volunteers, interns or regular employees. Their work could and should be seen as a political valence of revalorizing reproduction as art.

The Art of Reproductive Labour

I composed a manual, a collection of tips, tools, workshops and exercises, gathered via several art and/or social justice organizations. I believe these have the ability to help students understand and overcome issues such as hierarchical differences, personal and professional empowerment, care, the body, and the visibility of reproductive labour. They draw upon alternative pedagogies, critical thinking, and student-centred methods designed to support change. I am positive these tools and resources can address the disconnect between practice, critical thinking and professional development. This toolkit is meant to inspire lectors in charge of work placements, career development officers, educators in the arts and cultural industries, gallery educators, vocational/professional development tutors, student unions and others interested in labour theories. All contributions to the manual are guidelines and should be embraced as triggers for inspiration as much as anything else.

I’d like to see it as a growing collection. Please feel free to contribute your own worksheet, workshop, exercises, or suggestions for material that could be part of this manual. Click here to contribute.

Maud Berden, “Circle of Compliments,” 2021