Reflecting on Domestic Bliss by Artist Gill White
Gill White’s installation is a stark commentary on our media-enhanced expectations of an airbrushed family life, contrasted with the violent realities we know many children face in the place they call home
Domestic Bliss initially evokes a feel of the innocence of post-war Britain: the kitchen table filled with freshly home-baked jam tarts reminiscent as the product of a stereotypically happy and optimistic “nuclear family” with 2.4 children. Yet a closer look at the work reveals that beneath the veneer all is not as it seems: the kitchen knife left menacingly available in the centre of the piece; the shards of glass masquerading as jam; the starkly iconic flooring referencing the most widely used image of little Baby Peter – one of our most high profile Child abuse tragedies in recent years.
That we make more effort to tackle domestic abuse has never been more important given our increasing understanding of the impact it can have on the developing child. Victims of domestic abuse are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, or abuse drugs or alcohol. We also know that the generational cycle of abuse can continue with those experiencing or witnessing violence in childhood being more likely to be attracted to violent partners or even going on to commit violence in relationships themselves.
It is no coincidence that White’s work reminds us of the growing awareness of child abuse and neglect that has pervaded the public mind in the decades since this image and idyll of the 1950s and 60s. Maria Colwell (1973), Heidi Koseda (1984), Victoria Climbie (2001), Baby Peter (2008) and Daniel Pelka (2012) are just some of the higher profile cases which have been seared on our collective memory. Perhaps more disturbingly, though, the recent focus on historical abuse has alerted us to the fact that for many children there never was or has been a ‘golden age’ and that behind close doors families are always more complex and potentially less stable than any of us would wish.