The works of art in Inventing Childhood explore how intellectual, philosophical, and practical treatment of children differs through time and across cultural boundaries. It is an undisputed biological fact that most people grow—physically, emotionally, intellectually—throughout the course of their lifetime. The ways that humans have ordered, defined, and made sense of this growth is far more nuanced. Indeed, understandings of the human lifespan are cultural constructs; scholars have argued that the present-day understanding of childhood, far from being a biological fact, is an invention of 19th-century Europe.
Inventing Childhood acknowledges that the range of cultural conceptions of childhood is much broader; the works in this exhibition comprise diverse representations of childhood from across geographical and temporal boundaries. Some works reveal an artist’s personal memories of childhood, while others speak to broader cultural expectations of the young. Some demonstrate the roles that children have played in constructing and maintaining cultural narratives, while others embody the lived experiences of children themselves.