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18th Street Arts Center
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Patty Chang at 18th Street Arts Center


At 18th Street Art Center, Patty Chang’s video installation “Milk Debt” features breast milk. Though a ubiquitous biological process, the act of pumping breast milk is strangely taboo in American culture — Chang’s unabashed focus on the subject feels liberating in contrast. 18th The fears play on an adjacent screen in large white type on a black background as the women recite them. “I fear that people will stop loving me… I fear that life’s struggles will continue and I won’t be able to enjoy adult life at any point,” one of the women confesses.

The vulnerability of the women’s shared innermost fears paired with the intimate act of pumping breast milk allows for a portrayal of motherhood that is complex, tender, and ultimately empowering. While the act of giving birth literally gives one’s body over to another being, “Milk Debt” reclaims female autonomy and multiplicity amidst the act of caring for another life.

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Photo: Patty Chang, “Milk Debt,” 2020. 5-channel HD video, 53 minutes. Image courtesy of the artist.