Six drawings by Cameron McCafferty line the EMU’s Aperture Gallery. One of them depicts a full-frontal vaginal birth — an image McCafferty was initially concerned about including in the exhibit.wq
“That was one thing I was worried about,” said McCafferty, a fifth-year art and technology major at UO. “My mom really hates that, but it’s drawn in such a childish way that I don’t think it’s super offensive.” The exhibit’s striking color scheme leaves one in shock of how bluntly concepts like pregnancy, virginity and religion are portrayed.
As a child, McCafferty was actually very shy. Growing up in Grants Pass, Oregon, they didn’t want to participate in many social activities, so they relied on cartoons and comics instead.
“I’ve always felt like it’s easier to explore different ideas, themes, feelings or experiences through cartoons and comics,” McCafferty said. “It just feels like a safe space where you can imagine different possibilities.”
“Pea Baby” is the story of a child named Angela who swallows a pea and becomes pregnant, seemingly against her own will, with a pea baby. The series of images follow Angela’s distressing pregnancy, eventually leading to the moment she gives birth.
McCafferty drew “Pea Baby” a couple of years ago as an assignment for their drawing class. The project centered around McCafferty’s childhood fear of pregnancy that they developed in Catholic school. Upon learning about the Virgin Mary’s acceptance of being chosen by God to give birth to Jesus, McCafferty began questioning their own faith.
“I believed that my faith should be as strong as the Virgin Mary’s,” McCafferty said. “I would lie awake in bed thinking of different scenarios like, what if that happened to me? Would I be able to say yes?”
McCafferty’s work explores themes around virginity’s equivalence to purity. The main subject in the work, Angela, was drawn as a childish cartoon to emphasize her youth, and by extension, the Virgin Mary’s youth. Angela was also drawn to look androgynous — McCafferty said they wanted to make the work more relatable and accessible to viewers.
Reflecting on their own relationship to Angela, McCafferty recounts how they portrayed their childhood fears — pregnancy, morning sickness and the cold jelly used for ultrasounds — with their own artistic style.
“I drew it in a way that was kind of funny-looking because it takes away a lot of the fear surrounding [pregnancy],” McCafferty said. “So it could be simultaneously expressing my disgust, worry or fear, but also turning it into something that I like to look at.”
The childish absurdity of “Pea Baby” transforms initial shock into humor. McCafferty’s childhood vision of swallowing a pea and becoming pregnant is meant to be something to chuckle about.
“I think the situation is actually kind of horrifying. You’re eating dinner, then all of a sudden you have to give birth to a pea baby,” McCafferty said. “But at the same time, it’s funny and cute. It makes [pregnancy] softer to talk about.”
McCafferty wants audiences to find her work funny and weird. A more light-hearted take on serious themes might cause viewers to reflect on their own childhood.
“I hope people can think of things with a more childlike perspective,” McCafferty said. “It helps you to not take things so seriously and dismantle a lot of notions you’ve had because you’ve grown up.”
“Pea Baby” by Cameron McCafferty will be on display at the EMU’s Aperture Gallery through April 24. Check out more of their work on Instagram, @camccaff, or on their website: lynliane.com.