by Jahaira Rios Galvez
edited by Beláxis Buil
I have fed them through countless nights, resting on minimal amounts of sleep. They have called out my name, demanding needs, as I slump over to meet them, struggling to keep my eyes open. I don’t rest. Their voices are a constant, continuous cry. My nights are restlessly spent planning out the next stage in their lives: hoping that my plans are the right ones. My resources are limited and I can’t afford to make mistakes. This is what being a mother, an artist and art maker is like for me, and many others in the field of art. In one breath and in one life I have provided myself the basic needs of breath, speech and physical being to my own self and to my children. Conceiving my children and conceiving my work into the world are essentially the same for me. Both require the labor of love and diligence. One is never sure what the work will look like at the end of the process- but you keep going forward. At the end one sees the final product, uncertain of the life it takes on it's (his's/her's) own- once it (his/her) is introduced to the world. You take great care in shaping them and infusing the values you want to see. Ultimately, you have no control as to whether the world will love them as you have or see their innate beauty. I have worked hard to ensure they are resilient, able to surface on the other side of critical scrutiny and outright, mean-spirited demeaning talk. I try to resist the temptation of allowing their lives to be a commentary to mine. They are not me and I am not them. Detachment, we must learn to detach. I see so many parallels between my experiences: a mother and an artist. My roles have cyclically fed into the other. I can’t imagine life without it's dualistic nature.
If I ask that one search the topics of Motherhood and Art, the results are interestingly debatable and on the verge of arguable defense. In the slapping words of the well renowned performance artist Marina Abramović, I quote, ‘In my opinion [children are] the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family, children—a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that’. And I implore why a woman is obligated to choose between career and family, but more specifically her children? My career is about having a space for myself to unfold and expend. And being a mother is an extension of yet another unfolding layer of myself that at some point will taper off. It won’t last forever.
During an interview in 2014, visual artist Tracey Emin told the U.K.’s Independent that she couldn’t be a mother since she’s not a flake and does everything at 100 percent. Emin continues to argue that woman can’t do two things—parenthood and art—100 percent. She adds on ‘There are good artists that have children. Of course there are’, she continues: ‘They are called men’. WOW!- only good artists who have children are men. Deplorable.Thanks for the support sister…
In an age where women should be supporting one another, Emin and Abromović’s attitudes and statements repel me. As a mother it is my gut reaction to feel insulted!- yet, another part of myself attempts to understand where this attitude is coming from. First, I don’t think that a woman is qualified for such statements, lacking the experience of family and/or children. Is there weight to these statements without proper experience or knowledge? I do not think there is any weight in Emin and Abromović’s statements, therefore I discard them. There is no arguing with ignorance on such a subject. Yet, I see the shortness of exhibiting female artists on a regular basis, let alone those who have children. I have to wonder why?
I know I have had seasons to gestate my work, similarly as I have gestated the growth and development of my children. I have granted my work time to incubate until the right moment a call to artists or an invitation presented itself. And not just because I’m waiting for the right opportunity but rather being honest with myself, realizing I have a lot on my plate: raising children, meeting their health needs, helping with homework, making costumes, preparing dinner, whilst maintaining a clean house. Despite all the demands I have never ceased to make art. It is by creating art that I remind myself to breathe. It is my personal reminder that I too am an individual.
Again, I pause to contemplate Abromović and Emin’s responses. Their statements seem to undermine the capacity of a woman- as a mother- and a professional artist. They have each made a choice in their lives and careers, but better to know yourself and act accordingly: I think there is a place to also recognize a blind spot. Neither of them have children, therefore their conclusions lack substance. As for myself, I have known life as an artist with and without children.
Now I can state that life as an artist, with children, has taught me to be more dedicated and feverishly relish my craft. It has given me the ability to fuel myself through bouts of energetic deprivation; since it would mean giving up on myself. Life as an artist and mother has not been at odds with one another, instead it has provided more to envision and more stories to feed off and share. Motherhood has gifted me a richer, robust creative life and fuel for work, that I believe will continue to flourish long after my children leave my messy yet colorful nest.
At length no one can speak for another. We make our choices based on our own aspirations. To assume the capacity of another without being in their shoes is careless and disrespectful.
There are many obstacles artist mothers have to face: being a single mom, an unsupportive partner or lack of resources could be the culprit. However, we could try to be supportive within our communities, for the simple fact that one day we may need someone to be there for us, too. One of the most loving gestures is to show compassion and emotional support towards another human being, recognizing that we all need a tribe. It would not be such a strange idea to include mothers in the creative sphere, the tribe of art within the community. What else could possibly be as natural as to include those who choose to bring life into the world: the bringers of life into the world of art.