AMBIVALENCE IN MOTHERHOOD
Ambivalence has been strongly present in my motherhood and my identity as an artist. At a practical level, the need to take care of a baby took away most of my time and energy that I wanted to devote to my art. At the same time, giving birth to new life and witnessing the first months of a new life gave me more urge to create.
This is beautifully, painfully, captured by Adrienne Rich, an American poet and essayist:
«Entry from my journal, November 1960 My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which I have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment an raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness. Sometimes I seem to myself, in my feeling toward these tiny guiltless beings, a monster of selfishness and intolerance. Their voices wear at my nerves, their constant needs, above all their need for simplicity and patience, fill me with despair at my own failures, despair too at my fate, which is to serve a function for which I was not fitted. And I am weak sometimes from held-in rage.» An excerpt from « Of Woman Born: Motherhood and Institution and Experience » (1976)
I believe that we must recognise that maternal ambivalence is part of human condition, and NOT a crime or a failing.
The artist book
One of the positive things that came out of my motherhood is that I am learning to own my frustration. I have been practicing drawing since I was in high school and I have always thought I was not good enough. There was a period in my twenties when I zealously drew on my sketchbook everyday to improve my skills. After becoming a mom and having to let go of my independence for the most part, I learned to be content with « good-enough » drawings… even those that I do with my children.
Through countless hours of playing with my children, drawing with markers and crayons on all forms of paper (…and walls… and furniture), I discovered that drawing is just one of many enjoyable activities that humans do. When I realised that I don’t have to compare my drawings to those of other artists, I could see that my drawings were not so bad. I came to see a parallel dynamic at play between parenting and the idea of a good mother.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ About handwritten notes
The visual form of my handwriting on the pages of my journal communicates to me, in a more frank way, how I was feeling during that frustrating period when my children were very young. I wanted to present these forms as drawings in their own right, not just as mere symbols carrying legible meaning. I experienced the visual power of handwriting in an exhibition of Oreste Fernando Nannetti (1927-1994) at Collection d’Art Brut back in 2011. Confined in his own mind and within the walls of the psychiatric institution in Volterra in Italy where he was hospitalised, Nanettei inscribed his dreams and visions on the walls of the buildings he lived in. I could not decipher the content as the text was written in codes that the artist invented, but just by « reading » the forms of the writing, I sensed the presence of the author more in a direct way.
A network of (artist)-mothers
My intention is that the book (am)bivalence will serve as a tool to create a network of (artist)-mothers. You can put your profession or your strong identity in the blank in place of artist.
When I first became a mom, the most difficult thing for me was not sleep deprivation, nor the fact that I could not go out in the evenings. It was the fact that I was not feeling productive anymore as an artist. It is often difficult for woman artists to justify having to pay someone else for childcare in order to continue her studio practice. This often boils down to the fact that maintaining a financially sustainable career as an artist is extremely difficult. In my case, I am only now finishing up my works that I’ve envisioned in 2012… after almost six years, it was only from a few months ago that I felt I could plan a new project. This book that I am introducing to you is my « come back » show!
I strongly believe that my experience is not just one person’s story, but it is something many woman artists and professionals who happen to be mothers share.
My personal and artistic goal is to create such a network of artist mothers… something that I wished I had from the first time I became a mom.
Photos and Videos produced by the amazing artist and photojournalist: Ahmad Motallayi (webpage: https://www.facebook.com/motallayi/ )