The Art of Motherhood
Whilst being resourceful seems to be the founding quality of recent times, mothers have always stayed humble in this quality. Mums are carers, they are artists, they are idols, they are teachers – and all at the same time. Motherhood will be the source for my discussion today, in the context of art and design.
Domino Panton-Oakley, owner of Cotton On, has recently brought her first child into the world, making this a fitting time to recognise the role of mother.
“As a new mother myself I do find that I am now drawn to maternal themed art. Motherhood is a strange and amazing journey! It totally made me have a whole new appreciation for my body and what it can do, but then after the baby came, I started to feel uncomfortable in my body too. It had changed, it was flabbier than it was before pregnancy as the bump takes time to retract. I felt conflicted, amazed that I created and pushed this beautiful little girl out safely, but then sad and self-conscious to how my body now looks. It really does help to see artwork that explores motherhood, and finding artists that have been through the same journey and celebrating their body and the child they have created. This reminds me that it is likely all mums feel the same, and it is fascinating to see the different work mothers create!”
As Domino mentions, some-time after giving birth many women wear evidence of their childbirth experiences on their now evolved body. This conflict of self-love and self-loath is a natural accompaniment to the sacrifices made when a woman brings a child into the world. Childbirth itself is something that I am not used to seeing feature so often in the work of artists.
Ghislaine Howard, Caesarean Birth, 1992-1993 In 1993, Manchester City’s Art Gallery displayed the work of Ghislaine Howard, her series ‘A Shared Experience’ is an honest display of the insides of St Mary’s maternity ward.
Ghislaine states that after having two children herself, she had never witnessed her own birth and wished to revisit this time through her residency. (Howard, 1994). To me, this imagery displays further conflict, a time of pain but also of new life, displayed in a spectrum of colours that represent the subjective nature of childbirth experiences.
I recently discovered a conflicting quote by Phyllida Barlow. “What I am going to say sounds very negative, but it isn't. I don't think being an artist and having children is possible. I think it's not possible, but we still do it! The joy and experience is huge, but the conflict also begins at that point...” Phyllida Barlow, 2018.
Phyllida Barlow, Tilt, Hauser and Wirth, 2018 When we consider that Phyllida has five children and at the time of this quote was working on several sculptures, we can start to appreciate the struggles of balancing duties created by motherhood with the duties that surround your creative practise. When I was younger than I am now, I had always believed you did the ‘career thing’ OR you did the ‘mothering thing’. This stigma is questioned by the examples of Phyllida and Domino.
In the same way that not everyone has the means to create, not everyone is fortunate enough to become a mother, both qualities are a privilege, especially when both work in conjunction with the other.
Marcia Michael, Before Memory Returns, 2020 Throughout lockdown, creatives and mothers have needed to act with resourcefulness, perseverance and an open-mind. The work of Marcia Michael, created in lockdown, utilises self-portraiture.
Her beautifully curated scenes-of-self boast the female form and remind me of a relationship with one’s self that is crucial, yet not always available. In the night-time, where Marcia’s work exists, we are forced into reflection. I often consider how lucky I am to have been brought up by a mum like mine. In her parallel time zone, she sleeps before getting up at 5am for work.
Megan Wynne, Home Birth, 2015. I have a particular affinity for the work of Megan Wynne. Her work combines spontaneous and performative photography, this often translates into loveable and humorous storytelling. Her photographs explore the roles of mother and child, highlighting their co-existence and dependence on eachother.
Jodie Silverman, 'Gemma and Leo', 2015 The relationship between mother and child is often characterised by proximity, a crucial element in developing attachment in the early stages of life. Jodie Silverman, Manchester-based Fine Artist and Art Therapist, explores a closeness that is created through breastfeeding.
Jodie’s work presents a bond created through the innate process of providing. Whilst not every mother is able to breastfeed, the eye contact and keen gaze shared between the mother and child is a display of mutual adoration.
Maternity provides a wealth of discourse and art that uses such subject matter as its muse. From the perspective of a daughter, I live in adoration of my ‘not very by-the-books’ upbringing and strong single mother. From the perspective of an artist, I live in appreciation that opportunities are available to me because of this.
Motherhood exists to me now what my mum would call ‘a twinkle in my eye’.