On the opening night of the group exhibition, while people walked across the gallery with wine glasses in their hands, I was thinking about my space. In a corner sat the text of my manifesto with a light positioned over it. The text’s pages described the tension between two clashing aspects of my identity, one as a mother and the other as an artist. The manifesto sat on the ground under a spotlight in a dedicated corner of the gallery and represented my longing to have time off from work as an artist to be able to spend time with my newborn. I was holding space, a little corner that I didn’t want to lose while I was on maternity leave.
Before I became a mother, I was well aware of the struggles that artists went through for being mothers. Art historian Andrea Liss in her book Feminist Art and the Maternal mentions how children in the 1970’s were not allowed into their mother’s studios by social convention, but dogs were.1 How is it different now compared to 50 years ago? With all of the contributions of strong mother-artists since then shouldn’t we be in a better place? Shouldn’t those who want to, have no anxieties for being mothers and for being away from all the happenings for a short period? The social pressures of contemporary art create the expectation that artists are to be visible at all times regardless of what happens within their private lives. The fear is that institutions, galleries, and people will forget about you if you are not seen in awhile. This necessary life visibility but art-career “invisibility” is often interpreted n as the artist “not being serious” professionally. The practical acknowledgment of where life and work intersect seems to be nonexistent in visual art circles while simultaneously encouraging artists to make art based on their personal experiences and identity. I make myself available and visible by attending lectures and exhibition openings, by making artworks, and by exhibiting locally and internationally.
At the exhibition’s opening that late Friday evening, I observed people while holding my five-month-old baby. He was sleepy, and I struggled to keep him awake to attend to people who came out in support of this exhibition. My corner was getting filled with bodies that were present, but they missed my presence as an artist. I could not help but think that I was seen more as a mother that night and less as an artist despite it being the occasion of my exhibition opening. Many of the visitors didn’t even ask me questions about my work, rather they asked about my child. I am here and visible as is my child, but my work went unnoticed. My space that I carved out by pushing back against racism and sexism was getting filled with other artists who were present and available, while I was away on “maternity leave”. I realized then that the ignored voice was that of the combined mother-artist. My baby began to cry. As I rushed to the door, I tried to remember why I made a work that dealt with my identity of being both a mother and an artist. I tried to keep in mind that stories like mine exist in different professional settings without being noticed. My unnoticed work created a space for unheard voices like mine and created a corner for dialogue about issues regarding motherhood.2
- Andrea Liss, Feminist Art and the Maternal, 2008 Minnesota Press https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/feminist-art-and-the-maternal
- Full interview with Soheila Azadi on Cultural Reproducers http://www.culturalreproducers.org/2017/04/interview-soheila-azadi.html