In this time of continued uncertainty, these four Artist/Mothers in today’s episode are pushing forward with creativity and gusto in an art world that still does not fully give a voice to the visual representation of motherhood in all its various stages. Helen Sargeant, Rachel Fallon, Marcia Michael, and Martina Mullaney came to know each other through Helen Sargeant’s brilliant project and publication, Maternal Art Magazine. Even though they make different types of work – from drawings and photographs to performances and iron works – they are united in their desire to show the full range of the deep waters that motherhood inhabits.
This conversation between these four women is so enriching and thought-provoking. Helen Sargeant, after being rejected for an arts proposal, decided instead to push forward with her dream and created Maternal Art Magazine. Helen lives in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and makes artwork about the female body, identity, and mental fragility. She works across drawing, painting, photography, sound, video, performance, and installation to explore her ideas. Through her work with Maternal Art Magazine, Helen came to know the other three artists in this interview – Rachel Fallon, Marcia Michael, and Martina Mullaney. Rachel Fallon deals with themes of protection and defense in domestic realms and addresses the topic of motherhood and womens’ relationships to society. Her work encompasses sculpture, drawing, photography and performance and is firmly rooted in processes of making. Marcia Michael is a British artist whose practice challenges the presence of the black subject within the auspices of the family archive using photography, video, sound, performance, and installation. Martina Mullaney challenges established forms of art on maternity. Her work moves beyond body-centric essentially determinate art where the maternal experience is explicit in the work, to adopt activist, social, and political manifestations.
As our discussion deepens over the course of the interview, we discuss the effects of the pandemic – how it inspired some to be a catalyst for change, and it gave others reservations about trying to return to “normal” too quickly. We examine the ups and down of making work during this time, and the exposure of societal norms that are often ignored – namely, that mothers prop up society. Rachel discusses the role reversal that has happened with her own mother, now having dementia. She finds that now with her father and sister both gone, she is left to mother her own mother, but how this shift has been monumental for not only their personal relationship, but also her own art practice. Marcia reflects in a similar way how her ageing mother’s body has become one of the main inspirations for her recent photographic and video work, and how collaborating with her mother during this time has made them so much closer, and has opened doors creatively that she never knew were there.
We also discuss the importance of seeking out new ways to connect, when the odds are seemingly against you. Helen, seeing an opportunity to bring artists together through Maternal Art Magazine, also discusses the importance of seeing the effects of isolation caused by the pandemic. By digging in deeply to understand and explore these effects, she has brought to light the whole maternal experience – from the struggles of pregnancy and childbirth and raising young children, to the role reversals and loneliness that can happen with having adult children and ageing parents. Martina discusses how even though during the pandemic her art-making has taken a back to teaching, she has faith that her creativity will return. Through all the major life events that these ladies have seen in the course of the pandemic, they all remain firm in their desire to keep creating, and to keep bringing to light the maternal experience in all its glory, hardship, sadness, and beauty.
Where were you 5 years ago?
Rachel: Her studio had just burned down. Had started making work with activism and performance.
Marcia: Had just started putting herself in front of the camera instead of just behind it.
Martina: Was on a boat on Liverpool Canal for a women-only residency (was a pretty bad experience, actually), but it made her start making work
Helen: In Finland on an arts residency
Where do you want to be 5 years from now?
Rachel: Wants to complete and show the piece that she has been working on collaboratively with another artist for the last 3 years. Wants to be in a more secure space about what to say yes and no to.
Marcia: Wants to document her ageing process in front of the camera. Wants to be honest about ageing as Black woman
Martina: To have breathing space in a small cottage in west Ireland with a large garden and chickens
Helen: To make large paintings again, and get her PhD
Helen Sargeant’s photos:
Rachel Fallon’s Photos:
working with my son – Portrait of a young man with a broken chair on his head – Rachel Fallon 2020
working with my mother – I Spy – Medical Appointments with my mother – Rachel Fallon 2020
Marcia Michael’s Photos:
Martina Mullaney’s photos: