Mother Art Prize 2018 Group Show
Procreate Project presented twenty short-listed artists of the Mother Art Prize 2018 at Mimosa House in Hanover Square, London. The prize is the only international prize for self-identifying women and non-binary visual artists with caring responsibilities. Works were selected among 290 entries by a panel of judges including Laura Smith, curator at the Whitechapel Gallery. The works presented ranged across many medium and not all were about being a “mummy”.
Relationships with one’s mother and one’s child are perhaps the most complex. How the relationship with one’s mother impacts the relationship one might have with a child is worth understanding, if only to avoid “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children”. In the art world we have come a long way from Lucy Lippard’s assessment in 1976 on the dearth of artworks made by women about pregnancy and childbirth. Lippard suggested that “women artists have traditionally either refused to have children or have hidden them away in order to be taken seriously in a world that accuses wives and mothers of being part-time artists.” Ada Calhoun has more recently written (2018) on a new mid-life crisis impacting X-generation women that suggests that the mental load of “having it all” makes it impossible to live a content life let alone be anything other than a part-time artist.
Candida Powell-Williams, the winner of the Mother Art Prize 2018, “creates a complex web of references as she brings together history and symbolism in her work, disorientating the viewer with the familiar and the unfamiliar”. The winning work explores “the fetishism of anthropological objects”. It explores life, spirituality, communication, talking, drinking, enlightenment”. It does not in any direct way explore being a mother. The work is interesting and a good choice for winner but surely one needs to take a moment to wonder at the choice and what it means in terms of the value given, even by this enlightened group of judges, to art about being a “mummy”.
Powell-Williams comments that “Being both an artist and a parent is physically and emotionally demanding, lonely, financially crippling and most of the networking opportunities happen at bath time which is one of the most important times of day for parents regardless of access to childcare.” One of the shortlisted works was “Ada vs Abramovic”. The artist imitated Abramovic’s work “The Artist is Present” showing herself breastfeeding her daughter Ada opposite a women in a red dress. The work confronts Abramovic’s 2016 statement that she “aborted three times because I was convinced that it would be a disaster for my work. We just have a certain amount of energy in our body that I should have shared. In my opinion, that’s why women are not as successful in the art world as men.”
Powell-Williams and Abramovic agree: Child-rearing is demanding. And, if the panel of the Mother Art Prize are to be believed, art about child-rearing is too dull to win prizes. This does not mean however that it is impossible to be an artist and a mother. Be an artist by all means, just don’t make art about your children unless you want to be considered dull. Maybe.
The Mother Art Prize and its parent, the Procreate Project, are tentative explorers into a difficult world where even mothers are often bored by art about being a mother. Their passion and efforts to carve out a space in which individuals can “explore all of the visceral, metaphorical, emotional and literal positions that exist between and within those of mother and artist” is laudable and should be supported. As a culture we can grow through such efforts.