Monday, March 1, 2010

Background: Why am I doing this?

Why on earth am I doing this: spending heaps of money I don't have,  making a project about mothers? People keep giving me money-making ideas... like making heaps of intaglio prints to sell and opening a print-shop, publishing greeting cards of my work, or selling my landscape paintings, doing more graphic design work, teaching (and I love teaching!). But no... this is much more important to me, and - I believe - for the world. Here's why:

The first few years of a child's life determine much about the child's future, and frequently those first few years were spent primarily with one person: Mama.

What that implies for our children's future is huge. It means that every action, every word, every intention, success and failure of our own has become the foundation for a new human being. Each of our children will go on to build a world of her own invention, and perhaps become a parent, too. When we raise a child our impact upon the future of humanity grows exponentially.

Could it be that motherhood is the most powerful job on earth?
Most mothers have neither the means nor the support to raise our children as well as we hope to. We feed, clothe, nurture and protect our children according to all the advice we can gather, and then send them off to the best schools we can afford or find, according to our children's individual needs and the beliefs of our individual families.

So how do we learn to be "good mothers"? Well, we can't learn it in school, we may try very hard to glean what information we can from other mothers, doctors, studies and other publications, but probably the most significant contributor to our mothering abilities is our experience of being mothered, ourselves. That's right: those first few years of our lives. Somewhere deep inside our most long-forgotten memories are the touches of our mothers' hands, the feeling of our mothers' hair on our cheeks, the smell of our mothers' breath and skin, and the sound of our mothers scolding, laughing, singing, and reassuring. For some of us these places are empty memories. We stand shocked in front of our children after shouting some antique threat or criticism, completely forgotten until the moment it left our tongues. We look into our children's eyes and think "did my mother really love me this much?" We falter along, part of an endless chain of mothers, all doing the best we possibly can, and not often proud enough of the responsibility and honour we've been given: We are billions of mothers, working with tears, laughter, passion and compassion, all day and all of every night, and in this blessed occupation we are shaping the next generation of life on earth.

I consciously chose this occupation, worked for it, even, while, desperately hoping and wishing for a child. And some of us came here by accident, and some of us are still trying, even some in vain, wanting desperately to share in this most treasured role, but shut out by our own bewildering fates. But all of us are building the world we live in, one face-wipe; one tirade; one cuddle at a time.

Nursing Songs:

I came to this project naturally, as I became a mother myself. So often we are trapped as lonely caregivers, unable to find community, and when we finally do find it, it is with other mothers, and often through our children. We are neck-deep in a desperately emotional period of our lives, and needing to share.

In 2004, with a toddler at home and pregnant with my second child, I stopped painting and teaching. There was no place safe to paint with my son around, and obviously no time, anyway. I abandoned my career and passion for a new passion: motherhood.

Of course, creativity doesn't just end. While nursing, I began writing poems about my son, and later my infant daughter. I wrote songs for them, about the joys and the unexpected trials of motherhood, and I began performing these songs around the island where I live. It seemed many people were interested; not because I was a great singer, but because I sang about our shared experiences. Motherhood is perhaps the most common profession on earth, and certainly one of the least formally acknowledged. I sat having tea with other mothers, nearly every day. We shared stories of loss and reward, of satisfaction and frustration. I discovered that, among the many vastly different women I knew, our shared experiences were our strongest support line.

During this time, I founded and ran a program called Mothers Place, which welcomed mothers of young children to learn (every week we had a 'baby circle' followed by a local speaker) and above all to share their experiences and thoughts in a supportive environment. This work, as well as my own mothering journey, inspired me endlessly to create art that would connect and support mothers.

Though rewarding, motherhood can feel like a prison, too. I often felt lost in the infinite tasks of laundry, cooking and cleaning that my new life involved, and I began to feel I might never paint, again. I began taking photos of my children, and then of my own mothering experiences -- a project I called "mother's-eye-view". I continued writing poems and songs, and, although I had a few published, and did present and perform a small amount in Victoria, Vancouver and on Bowen Island, I was growing increasingly restless, and unfulfilled, as an artist. In an attempt to regain the sanity of the woman he had married, my husband began building me a studio, and it was then that I began to feel my value as an artist, returning.

In 2009, as my studio neared completion, I began to document the emotional experiences of other mothers. This, my current work and passion, is called MAMA. I am hoping to tour my work, documenting mothers in various countries and languages as I go, so that the project becomes truly international. Details of the MAMA installation and other parts of the project follow in this book.

Art for a World Community:

I have always felt that my art, rather than being decoration, is a conversation with the viewers. It's a way of opening viewers' emotional doors, inviting them to participate, and being as much about their own input as it is about mine. By extension, if I can use art to bring people together in community, either empathically or physically, then I feel truly fulfilled.

Motherhood is one of the most life-altering journeys most women embark upon, and one of the most demanding, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This project is an exploration of the vast spectrum of experience that is mothering. It brings together women in all stages of motherhood and from all walks of life to share, inspire, and create the show. Through the sharing of experience and the empowerment of our voices, we bring healing to one another, and bring our mothering into the community sphere, thereby strengthening the roots of the next generation.

Compassion comes through empathy. I feel art is successful when it has brought people together, and so with this project I aim to bring a worldwide community of mothers together, and to further open the doors of communication for everyone.

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