Jill MacKeith is the curator of a recent show in Stroud, ‘Motherhood & Metamorphosis’ at the Lansdown Gallery. Guest SITblog contributors and artists, Sarah Dixon and Sharon Bennett, interviewed Jill about the show and the thinking behind it.
What is your background – are you an artist?
No! Curating is completely new to me. I have a business undergraduate degree and an MSc in Environmental Science from Trinity College, Dublin and another MSc in Sustainable Development from the Dublin Institute of Technology. In my work I have a Project Management background, mostly in Research. I married an artist/editor/tree surgeon and have two young children under five.
How did you come up with the idea for the show?
When I gave up work to become a mother I found my world changed dramatically, I think I was in shock for at least the first year coming to terms with looking after a tiny person and the 24/7/365 nature of this new role.
I found my identity shifting and changing and wondered where I had gone and who I was becoming. I enjoy being with my children and love them very much but alongside that I also found mothering very challenging and exhausting.
Often I felt guilty for feeling this way when my children were healthy and I had a roof over my head with food to eat and clean water to drink. I read two books that made quite an impact: What Mothers Do (especially when it looks like nothing), by Naomi Stadlen and The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart.
Those books spoke honestly about the difficulties mothers face in our society and a seed was planted in my head, I wanted to help expose some of these difficulties to make them more part of the public consciousness. I wanted to do something to help reassure other mothers that they are not alone and also to mark somehow the huge transformation that has occurred to them from being an autonomous woman to becoming a mother.
Coupled with this, somehow I felt that words were not enough – I felt that visual art encapsulated these complex emotions and feelings so much more eloquently than words. Perhaps something about motherhood brought out the right, more creative side of my brain, as since having children I have found that logic and rationale has slightly gone out of the window!
Thankfully, I heard about the Women’s Art Activation System (WAAS) seminar day at Atelier ‘Models for Mother Artists’ and got in touch with Katharina Child at Atelier, who put me in touch with Sarah Dixon and Sharon Bennett of the WAAS. Sarah and Sharon were immediately supportive and encouraging which gave me the confidence to pursue the idea of a group show on the theme of Motherhood.
What was your aim for the show?
The exhibition’s aim was to provide a platform for mothers to acknowledge their metamorphosis into motherhood; to create a space in the public consciousness exposing the difficulties this change evokes and to celebrate the epic odyssey embarked upon.
I wanted anyone to be able to take part that had made artwork or had artwork pertaining to the manifesto for the show.
In the end 31 artists, local and international, exhibited over 70 works. It was heartening to engage with so many wonderfully creative people who understood the show’s ethos and were keen to take part and support it.
Two pieces of work were created by artists who were not themselves mothers, it was fantastic to have their experiences on the theme as part of the show. The diversity was amazing and to be honest I was very lucky with all the talented people who stepped forward to take part.
How did you find the reaction of the audience?
It was very encouraging! Firstly, I was so pleased to see so many men coming through the door, often on their own, which I thought was very brave as I imagined the name of the show could be off-putting. There were also some very interesting conversations with women who were not mothers, which I hope may lead to future shows on different, yet perhaps linked themes. We had some fantastic feedback and we really seem to have connected with a lot of people and organisations.
Do you have any future plans for this show? Or another show?
People have been asking if we could take the Exhibition to another location. I’m still pondering this question. I would love to do more and collaborate more.
One idea that came up was to have a show on Fatherhood to balance the Motherhood, although it would need some fathers to step forward and lead perhaps?
Another idea was a show on Nurture and how that can encompass Nature and animals/wildlife, people caring for ageing relatives, perhaps the medical profession, different and many varied ways we humans nurture.
I am discussing with the WAAS and others about plans for next year. There are some big themes emerging here and we want to bring people together over some of the perceived barriers between them.