Aesthetics, Politics and Histories: The Social Context of Art ~ debrief part two

From the program…

Open Paper Session 1, first speaker: Zoe Freney,

Zoe Freney, Adelaide Central School of Art and Australian National University

Mother Artists: Strategies for Creativity and Care

Mother artists are often conflicted in the pursuit of their careers by society’s expectations that generally expect after having children, women assume the main caring roles and domestic duties. This paper takes a matricentric feminist standpoint in challenging patriarchal structures of motherhood and gender bias in care work. Further, it explores alternative art practices that allow mothers to reconcile the still extant dichotomies of artist and mother.

The 2018 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (pdf) (HILDA) Survey identified that there are persistent gender biases in the areas of care and domestic labour. The 2018 Women’s Health Survey reports that 67 percent of women feel anxiety or on edge nearly every day, with researchers linking this to time pressures experienced by working, caring women. In her 2015 book, Anne-Marie Slaughter identifies the failure of society to recognise care roles as fundamental to the functioning of society. The Countess Report, published in 2016, shows the ongoing gender inequality in representation and participation in the visual arts. Narrow models of motherhood and of care work are surely responsible for the ‘drop out’ rate for women in art.

Like feminist artists before them, mother artists today are using a range of unique and inventive strategies, including collaboration, performance and humour, to critique the sidelining of care within a neoliberal patriarchal society whilst also highlighting notions of the gendered nature of care work. This paper explores these strategies as challenges to the status quo, so that mothers can care and create in equal measure.

Notes from the session….

Freney addresses the identity shift that comes with becoming a parent, and for artists who are also mothers, the unique tensions and challenges that brings; firstly that a woman becomes interconnected with another life, it’s not ‘me’ any more it’s ‘we’. Those early years of infancy and childhood are extremely intimate and intense, the pressure / expectation on mothers to do it all, and strive for perfection is oppressive and traps women in a patriarchal ideal of motherhood, which is still romanticised and sanctioned by society, and is highly visible in the media, consumer, and celebrity culture. It is isolating and essentially denies women – mothers selfhood, and the day to day work of child care, this responsibility compounds this situation.

Artist’s like Renee Cox are challenging this old trope.

We may not be able to ‘have it all’ but mother artists can incorporate the identities of mothers and artists, expanding the boundaries of work and relationships, the experience becomes less about the elusive ‘balance’ more about holding the pain and wonder of motherhood together, not denying or hiding it. That the mothering dynamic is a place of creative expression, and frustration.

The conversation included the fact that care roles, often played by women and mothers, are essential to a functioning society, it is an accumulation of repeated revolutionary acts that mothers do that can challenge the limits placed on them.

The image of the perfect mother, fit, toned and stylish is more present than ever, that this ‘perfection’ is portrayed as:

• White

• Middle class

• Individual

• Consumerist

And that the pressure to conform to this image of the perfect mother daily is an amplification of control of women, that the fad of intensive mothering is a manifestation of patriarchy. This perfect mother is unachievable. She is also an individual, not part of a collective or community. This ideal rebukes feminist gains, and the images of the this perfect mother reach into the private sphere (as seen in lifestyle imagery on social media like instagram) as well as the public world of women performing life, there is no breathing space.

Being a mother increased or heightened the regulation of women’s bodies, that mothers are in this paradoxical place of self assessment (am I enough? is this enough?) in isolation from each other and community.

There is a sense of urgency in work of artists who are mothers, and for mothers working as artists.

Artists that were looked at include:

Fran Callen

Courtney Kessl

Kaitlynn Redell


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s