I am My Mother’s Daughter. I am a woman, I am a daughter. My mother is was a woman, she is was a mother, she is was an artist.
I am my mother's daughter but my mother is dead.
In the exhibition My Mother's Daughter, various artists reflect on their role as children of mothers, they explore the mother-child relationship and contemplate what 'mother' means to them personally. Childhood, womanhood, motherhood, being an artist, all relate to each other and influence one another. Each of these subjects regularly recurs in art history and philosophy. Throughout history, they are exposed to change and coloured by personal experience.
WOMANHOOD AND MOTHERHOOD
For a long time, being a woman was equivalent to being a mother. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), for example, believed that women were inescapably mothers and caretakers. The very essence of womanhood was to become a mother. Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) argued against motherhood. She equated a woman’s decision to marry and have children with selling oneself into slavery. With both her fictional texts, her autobiographies, and the book The Second Sex De Beauvoir wanted to make her readers aware that motherhood will always be a conscious choice rather than a passive yielding to tradition and even advised feminists to avoid motherhood. She considers motherhood to be the most important characteristic that makes women 'others'. Her crusade to create awareness for this choice to motherhood, along with the influence of other thinkers, the introduction of the Pill in 1960 in America and 1962 in the Netherlands, and the ‘Baas in eigen buik’ supporters, who were actively advocating for abortion, allowed women to gradually make a conscious choice for or against motherhood. In her book Mother - An Unconventional History, Sarah Knott (1972) refers to this choice as the most recent turn in motherhood: 'Deciding for or against is the latest version of mothering by numbers, a very contemporary twist: not just how many children to have but, rather, whether to have a child at all.'
WOMANHOOD, ARTISTRY AND BECOMING A MOTHER
Until the twentieth century, the profession of artist was mainly reserved for men. The role of women in the art world was confined to that of muse. With the advent of feminism, more attention was drawn to female artists. As the well-known poster of the Guerrilla Girls states: 'Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?'. After all, the representation of female artists is seriously inadequate, even though there are plenty of scarcely clad female bodies to be admired in many museums all over the world.
In the twentieth century, these prevailing standards carefully changed. Women started to make art hesitantly or sometimes even anonymously. The anonymity was supposed to prevent the negative annotation with being a woman as an artist. Being a woman was so decisive that it left a heavy mark on the artist's work for the outside world. The feminist wave, however, brought a rise in female creators. Thanks to feminism, female artists were stimulated and opportunities arose for new themes and the female perspective in the arts.
Many modern female artists of the time chose not to become mothers. Artists like Tracey Emin (1963) and Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986) consciously chose a childless existence to focus on their career as artists. They had to choose between art or children, you couldn't have both. Like Emin once said: "There are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They are called men."
The artists seemed to be facing an ultimatum; career or child? Although popular culture portrayed women as happy housewives in the twentieth century, many women worked outside the house. Recent research by Markus Gangl and Andrea Ziefle on career prospects after motherhood in America, England and Germany show that the vast majority of women continue to work after maternity. However, they do opt for a mother-friendly job and motherhood has a regressive disadvantageous effect on the career development of women. This effect depends on the number of children and the age: the younger the child, the greater the adverse effect. Sarah Knott describes in her book Mother, in which she considers motherhood at the expense of her career, that with motherhood the success rate slows, falling behind those of childless men and women.
After having a child, mothers choose a job that is more flexible and offers more appropriate working conditions, even if this is at the expense of the level of pay. Being an artist is probably one of the most un-mother-friendly jobs there is. They have to deal with a 24/7 mentality. The constant mental and physical availability that is attributed to motherhood is a source of anxiety. As an artist, you must always be available for yourself and your work. It is a time-consuming profession because of the thinking, the research, and the reflection that is involved in an artistic practice even beyond the actual making of the work itself. Moreover, the art world is geared towards childless artists. Openings are celebrated in the evening, where much of the networking occurs (which is essential to an artist's existence and income). And during the installation of an exhibition, the museum or exhibition space will not readily provide care for the children.
Marina Abramović (1946) told Der Tagesspiegel in an interview in 2018 that she had three abortions because becoming a mother would have been a disaster for her work. 'In my opinion [motherhood] is the reason that women are not as successful as men in the art world,' Abramović stated. After the aversion to motherhood that prevailed in the modern era, there is a shift taking place. Renowned names in contemporary art are combining their artistry with motherhood. Think of Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas, Yayoi Kusama, they are all celebrated artists and at the same time mothers. Artist Tara Donovan (1969) argues in an interview with Marina Cashdan: “While I understand the pressures of the art world all too well, the notion that women must sacrifice the pleasures of motherhood for the sake of a ‘career’ reflects insidious double standards from a bygone era. I think Abramović has chosen to operate in an art world that reflects the values of this bygone era, where masculinist hierarchies determine what constitutes ‘value’ and ‘success.’ This is the same art world that privileges male artists at auction with exponentially higher prices than women.” Kara Walker (1969), whom Cashdan spoke to for the same article, won the prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant the same year she gave birth to her daughter. “Having children isn’t for everyone, but offering up old school sexism isn’t useful to anyone,” Walker says.
MOTHER AND CHILD
Many philosophers throughout history shared their thoughts on the mother-child relationship. For example, Plato (427-347 BC) wrote in Politeia that in the ideal state, children would be the common property of the state, they would not know their parents, and would be raised by caretakers. Under the influence of the Enlightenment, the ideas of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, people started to perceive this differently; the notion of motherly love became more central. In Rousseau's time, in the upper echelons of society, it was common to have children raised by a "nurse" for women to occupy themselves with other obligations such as social affairs. However, Rousseau wrote, "the child needs a mother's care as much as her milk." He believed that the duty of the mother was to bring up her child herself. In 1954, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) stated in her essay The Crisis in Education that parents are not only responsible for their children but also for the continuation of the world. Arendt sees parents as representatives of the world for which they must take responsibility.
History professor Steven Mintz claims that the relationship between parent and child has changed significantly in recent times. This is partly influenced by the fact that the choice of parenthood is now voluntary and there is no longer any stigma associated with childless parents. As a result, he argues, the choice to have a child is deliberate and purposeful. Several historical shifts such as parenthood at a later age, better educated parents, and low birth rates facilitate the fact that parents focus more on their children. They are also continuing to do so; contemporary parenting does not end when the child reaches the adult age of 18 or 21. Parents today support their children in their college years or by making a down payment on a house. Parents today are closer with their adult children than in the past. Compared to the past, the parent-child relationship is less based on hierarchy, leaving room for a close, intimate and egalitarian relationship. At times, however, this can make it more difficult for children to distance themselves from their parents, and for parents to let go of their children in order to allow them a fully autonomous life.
The effect of losing a parent on a child before the end of its teenage years is many times greater than the effect on a child that has reached adulthood. Before becoming of age, children have not yet separated from their parents. René Descartes (1596-1650) describes that the child under two years of age originally thinks that they and the mother are one. Eventually, the child starts to recognize the mother as a separate person. This discovery is accompanied by panic because the child still experiences dependency on the mother. Christopher Bollas (1943) describes in his book The Shadow of the Object how the child starts to break away from the mother as a baby: "With the infant's creation of the transitional object, the transformational process is displaced from the mother-environment (where it originated) into countless subjective-objects". Susan Neiman (1955) describes becoming an adult as "a process in which you reconsider your parents' choices about anything and everything".
The exhibition My Mother's Daughter ends with the death of the mother. The books and articles, the people I talk to about the subject, in all of them lies an assumption that the mother-child relationship ends with the death of the mother. The death of my mother feels like a radical and precipitous maturing. The upbringing has come to an abrupt end, brought about by death. My mother’s input, her role as guardian of my happiness, as trustee, it all ceases to exist. However, the previous input, the norms, and values that she taught me, ensure that our relationship is not dead. They connect us, I still learn from the things she taught me, I look back at them and reconsider them. I am My Mother's Daughter.
Atria, Ontwikkeling geboortebeperking
Christopher Bollas, The Shadow of the Object (2017)
Ella Alexander, Tracey Emin: 'There are good artists that have children. They are called men' (2014)
Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? (1989)
Hannah Arendt, The Crisis of Education (1954)
Hetty Judah, 'Motherhood is taboo in the art world – it's as if we've sold out': female artists on the impact of having kids (2020)
Jane Flax, Mother-Daughter Relationships: Psychodynamics, Politics, and Philosophy (1985)
Laura Bernardi and Gerda Neyer, Feminist Perspectives on Motherhood and Reproduction (2011)
Marina Cashdan, You Can Be a Mother and Still Be a Successful Artist (2016)
Markus Gangl and Andrea Ziefle, Motherhood, Labor Force Behavior, and Women’s Careers: An Empirical Assessment of the Wage Penalty for Motherhood in Britain, Germany, and the United States (2009)
Mirthe Berentsen, Mythes over moeders in de kunst - Het gelaagde spinnenweb van onuitgesproken machtsverhoudingen (2020)
Parviz Dabir-Alai, Bryan McIntosh, Ronald W. McQuaid and Anne Munro, Motherhood and its impact on career progression (2012)
PBS, The Pill and the Women's Liberation Movement
Plato, Politeia (380 BC)
Richtje Reinsma, De moedernistische revolutie - over kunst en moederschap (2019)
Romeo Vitelli, When a Child Loses a Parent (2018)
Sarah Knott, Mother - An Unconventional History (2019)
Steven Mintz, How Parent-Child Relations Have Changed (2015)
Susan Neiman, Waarom zou je volwassen worden? (2014)
The Art Story, Feminist Art
Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (1985)
Yolanda Astarita Patterson, Simone de Beauvoir and the Demystification of Motherhood (1986)
Yuji Koshimizu, Women and children in Rousseau’s theory of education (2001)