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Real Families: Stories of Change

Real Families: Stories of Change


What is a family? And how is family experienced? These questions, explored through artists’ eyes, are at the heart of the exhibition, Real Families: Stories of Change, a collaboration between the Fitzwilliam Museum and the University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research. The book provides a catalogue of the exhibition in four sections, containing twelve illuminating essays that discuss the concept of the family. 


Real Families: Stories of Change focuses on art produced in the past 50 years, a period of significant change in how families are created and structured, with historical works woven into the exhibition to examine what is genuinely new, and what has remained the same, about the family. The catalogue includes reproductions of paintings, photography and sculpture.

In the first section, ‘What is a Family?’, artists portray new forms of family, including families formed by assisted reproduction and families with LGBTQ+ parents, as well 

as families affected by divorce, adoption and infertility. The works prompt viewers to consider stereotyped beliefs about what makes a family and society’s prejudice against childlessness.

Second, ‘Family Transitions’ starts with artists’ representations of motherhood, followed by an examination of the positive role that fathers play. Works on siblings speak to the dynamic and intense relationships that exist between siblings, and those on grandparents and grandchildren highlight the benefit of having each other in their lives. Artists also convey their complex feelings about their ageing parents.

‘Family Dynamics’ explores positive and negative relationships between couples, parents and children, and extended family, with works that foreground affection and rejection, comfort and conflict, enmeshment, estrangement and not fitting in. The works also examine the wider social, cultural and political influences on family relationships.

Finally, ‘Family Legacies’ highlights the importance to many people of a sense of connection and belonging. This section explores the transmission of family from one generation to the next through genetic inheritance, social and cultural practices, language and objects, which can forge emotional connections and give rise to family memories.

  • Edited by Susan Golombock

    Paperback, 280 x 240 mm

    176 pages, 100 illustrations 

    ISBN: 978-1-913645-51-9

  • Exhibition Details

    The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 

    6 October 2023 – 7 January 2024

  • About the Author

    Susan Golombok, Professor Emerita of Family Research, is former Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge and author of We Are Family: What Really Matters for Parents and Children.


    With a foreword by Luke Syson and contributions from Mary Beard, Rebecca Birrell, Dorothy Byrne, Pasco Fearon, Susan Golombok, Alex Graham, Katy Hessel, Claire Hughes, Jackie Kay, Olivia Laing, Rosie Millard and Andrew Solomon

    Mary Beard is a classicist, who recently retired as Professor in the University of Cambridge. She has worked on visual representations of gender, ancient and modern. 

    Rebecca Birrell is a writer and curator. Her first book, This Dark Country: Women Artists, Still Life and Intimacy in the Early Twentieth Century was a Guardian Art Book of the Year 2021 and was shortlisted for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize. 

    Dorothy Byrne is the President of Murray Edwards College at Cambridge University. She is the former Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel Four Television and an award-winning journalist.

    Pasco Fearon is Professor of Family Research and Director of the Centre for 

    Family Research at the University of Cambridge. He is a developmental and clinical psychologist doing world-leading research on child development and children’s mental health.

    Alex Graham is an award-winning film and television producer and founder of Wall to Wall Television.  He was executive producer of ITV’s Long Lost Family and the creator of the BBC’s acclaimed genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?

    Katy Hessel is an art historian, broadcaster and author of The Story of Art without Men. She hosts The Great Women Artists podcast, writes a column for The Guardian, and is a Visiting Fellow of Cambridge University.

    Claire Hughes is a Professorial Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, and Deputy Head of the University of Cambridge Psychology Department and Centre for Family Research.  She is currently leading an international study of family influences on school readiness. 

    Jackie Kay was the former Makar – the National Poet of Scotland (2016-2021). Adopted in Glasgow by John and Helen Kay, her original parents were from Nigeria and Scotland. She has written about them in The Adoption Papers and Red Dust Road.

    Olivia Laing is a widely acclaimed writer and critic. She’s the author of six books, including The Lonely City and Everybody.

    Rosie Millard OBE is an arts journalist, columnist and critic, former BBC Arts Correspondent and led Hull City of Culture 2017. She is Chair of LIFT theatre festival, Firstsite contemporary art space, BBC Children in Need and Deputy Chair of Opera North.

    Andrew Solomon is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia and Lecturer in Psychology at Yale, an activist in LGBT rights and mental health, and author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity and The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.

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