By Leah Rakbundel and Isla Birnie
As identity is chipped away by the machine of motherhood, a treasure trove of new mum-mineral veins appear. We discover we are sitting on the Mother Lode – a wealth of resources in strength and creative ingenuity. Mother lode explores the intersection of art and motherhood, the need for ‘A room of one’s own’ (Virginia Woolf, 1929) and moves beyond old fashioned ideas of ‘the pram in the hallway’ (Cyril Connolly).
‘Mother Lode’ was a group exhibition held in June 2021 at ‘Little Local’ in Broome by a five of us artist/mothers.
The idea to create a mum friendly exhibition sparked between us after having our first babies a few years ago. With Motherhood came a wealth of inspiration – there was a huge desire and need to create for both of us and despite more limited studio time we were exploring ways to continue to make art.
Hosted as part of the 2021 Broome Fringe Festival, ‘Mother Lode’ was open in a morning time frame to be accessible for artist mothers and audiences with children. We wanted to collaborate with other artist-mothers and make it a flexible experience, allowing artists to set their own realistic goals whilst juggling family, jobs and everything in between. We approached Vanessa Margetts, Naomie Hatherley and Susannah Williams if they would like to collaborate and were extremely fortunate to have them on board. Each artist brought something unique and special to the exhibition. Naomie completed her Master of Visual Arts on art and motherhood so brought a wealth of creative knowledge, experience and passion exploring this topic and was a valuable mentor to us all.
We developed an inspiring and supportive group dynamic, coordinating our project through a group chat and regular catch ups. It became like a Mothers’ group for artists as we shared stories of our artistic passions and how these collided with the joys and struggles of Motherhood.
Finding Time and Space
One of the biggest challenges for artist mothers we have experienced was simply finding studio time. We had heard from many about the traditional views of choosing between art and Motherhood, but we had also seen artist mothers who were successful in both roles such as Marikit Santiago, Del Kathryn Barton and Mary Kelly. We knew personally that art was a saving grace that helped to keep us grounded and calm in the trials of parenthood.
We discovered Lenka Clayton’s Artist Residency in Motherhood (ARIM) which provided a customisable free, open-source artist residency to empower and inspire artists who are also mothers. Over 1000 artists worldwide have undertaken Lenka’s ARIM as it provides a personally tailored framework to achieve your artistic goals. More info can be found at An Artist Residency in Motherhood
We created a zine for the exhibition as a way of presenting works that are created in the fleeting moments and everyday experiences of Motherhood. All five of us were excited to collaborate on this project. The collaborative process was a magical, soul filling journey, sharing our art, stories and insights into our joys and struggles of motherhood. Collectively we had a dynamic variety of zine works which flowed beautifully into similar themes such as boobs and breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, baby bliss and exploding hearts, the pregnant body, the need for solitude, domestic life and much more. The zine became its very own artwork and we exhibited the originals at Motherlode. The audience response and connection to this artwork was extremely encouraging – it brought viewers to laughter and tears. We were so grateful to have Vanessa’s graphic design skills to bring all our artworks together in the zine which was available to purchase.
EXHIBITION AT ‘LITTLE LOCAL’
The first two days of the exhibition included live music and an optional sit-down breakfast. The exhibition space itself is a café set in the downstairs of a renovated house and garden. This created a homely, domestic and welcoming environment. Throughout the event, the space was filled was a diverse audience which included young and old, families with children, nursing mothers and even a dog. We were pleased to see many mums had come to treat themselves to a morning out.
Naomie led an interactive teabag installation that audience members could engage in and the atmosphere was buzzing. This created a beautiful opportunity for conservation and connection with the audience.
COLLABORATING WITH CHILDREN
Moving far away from outdated views of keeping art and parenthood in separate realms we all embraced and collaborated with our children in various ways.
Vanessa’s projection piece was an overlay of two videos making art with her toddler. It was a mesmerising and meditative work, with stills from the video created as prints.
Leah had a set of four paintings where her toddler had painted the backgrounds, and another series of collage paintings using her daughter’s artworks and stickers along with shopping lists.
Isla created watercolour works documenting her son’s leftovers where he imagines his scraps to be various creatures and objects. These were included in the zine.
Susannah’s zine pages included collaborative scribbles from her toddler too.
Naomie had several works which incorporated her children’s drawings and marks including a torso sculpture and textile work.
MOTHERHOOD AS A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION AND SUBJECT MATTER
Along with collaborating with our offspring our works were informed by our experiences and reflections of motherhood. Motherhood can be secret world for those who are not inside of it and we wanted to share that world with our audience.
Susannah’s painting Birth Day Cake shows the cake she was gifted at her first baby shower, quite a creation in itself of a baby dolls head being birthed out of a vagina looking sponge cake.
Naomie’s Mum Musings Interactive Teabag Installation was a deep and moving collaborative piece where audience wrote a name, a memory, words of wisdom, an apology, to a mother in their world on an unfolded teabag. The messages brought tears to the eyes of many who read them and as Naomie threaded the bags together a delicate, yet very deep work was created.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
We could not have imagined how fulfilling and incredible our ‘Mother Lode’ exhibition would be. The praise we received from the audience was abundant and we are planning what the next steps are. We have endless ideas such as mum friendly art workshops and studio space. We know one thing, that art is a soul filling therapeutic activity and if there is a desire to create then a mum should be supported in this – guilt free. We also know that mother/artist mentors who have been through it before us provide invaluable support and insights – we should embrace these relationships. We would like to see regional artist mothers connecting, collaborating, and supporting one another so we can leverage artist mothers to be just a successful as their peers.
TO VIEW THE MOTHER LODE EXHIBITION VISIT:
If you’d like to reach out and contact us about our exhibition or ideas to collaborate, please email