The MAMAs Column

The MAMAs / Mother Artists Making Art celebrates the Mother-Artist. The MAMAs column is dedicated to sharing the stories of all things Mother*+Artist – personal and universal, integral and peripheral, iterative and ongoing, purposeful and playful. May you find yourself here. Welcome!

by Catherine Mueller

*Statement of inclusion at end of page.

photo credit Mindy Lupo

This is your mother artist calling

Without art you are perhaps lonely or bored. Without a mother you do not exist.

Show me a person without a mother, and I will show you my empty hand, a cypher, a ghost, a nonexistence, an impossibility. You can look around the corners, in the laboratories and incubators and imaginations, but the womb is the thing wherein the king grows into a body that might survive (placentas for all!), not to mention all the forthcoming raising and loving.

Show me a person without art and I will show you what is colorless, unfound, devoid of vibrancy, pageantry, mystery, texture, glitter, sonorousness. I will show you lost communitas, muted music, truncated dreams. We will then cry a little and lack context for our tears, not knowing how much beauty longs to be replicated.

I am a Mother-Artist. It is not just a womb that makes. It is my hands. My heart. My eyes. My feet. My hair.

I grow more on and in and out of me than is possible for your museums or theaters to contain, your art houses of worship. Why do you keep mothers out of them?

Once we make or raise a baby, our vitality does not matter? Or is it that our sparkle widens and consumes and propagates? Is that why you want to keep us in our kitchens and bathrooms, scrubbing the floors? In our basement laundry corners with all the squiggly critters that stick to adhesive, trapped in their morbidity with legs askew? Because we are too bright?

I will tell you that we refuse exclusion.

I will tell you that we refuse exclusion. Our refusals manifest in our gardens, our cakes, our exquisitely crocheted blankets, our balanced budgets, annotated syllabi, and color-coded activity calendars that hang on the refrigerator. In our hand-drawn birthday cards, our end-of-year-school-play costumes, our holiday making magic surprises, our simmering spice teas, sauces, and salsa verde. Our refusal resides in our labor, internal and external, seen and unseen, rewarded and overlooked. It goes where we go, constantly. It sits in our remembering. In our breath. In the weight of our physical bodies on the earth, too heavy to deny. In our songs repeated over peeling potatoes, sung in harmony and tune. In our shared knowledge of how socks go on and come off. Of how stories are told. How seeds release roots and leaves and eventually beans! Or pumpkins! Or Redwoods! We search for the green. We are the green. We are verdant populations, lush with more concertos than any summer series in the park. We are site specific, found object, DIY, form-transforming, fake it till you make it, tender-personal rainbow goddesses.

You should hunt for us with humility and jubilant welcome to include us at every table, and not just because we will bring bread, be it braided, flat or loaf. We will bring more than bread. We will bring the yeast that resides in our fingernails, in our spittle, the flora and fauna from our hair, from between our legs. We will bring you more sources of art than one body can contain.

We will bring you care, hot soup and crackers, band-aids and fairy cream. We will listen. We will unwrap the cupcake, open the bottle, find a straw in the bottom of our purse. We will always see to it you have shoes. We will make the pieces fit even when they don’t. We will encourage the extension of your dreams beyond your open windows, seeing the world as your canvas, palette and palate. You will know how to grow and lose and bury and celebrate and restore. You will be able to dress yourself smartly, unfettered by useless ideas of gender or color coordination. You will know how to choose.

With us, you will know how to care. How to honor your elders. How to praise the setting sun and the rising moon. How to step aside for citizens in more of a hurry than you, who pass in selfish haste on the sidewalk. You will be able to let them pass and know that their energy is not yours to absorb and you can wish them well on their journey. You know that all our journeys are complicated.

Is all this not art? Is this not the unspoken art that those who raise others have been doing since the first dawn? Does this not deserve annual retrospective, cultural embrace, political clout, academic department, annotated scholarship and free flowing festival in the woods?

I want you to stop what you are doing, look around,

and lift up the mothers.

I want you to stop what you are doing, look around, and lift up the mothers. Lift up all the mothers, with their quilts and backyard sheds of hidden paintings, their songs and poems on scraps of paper tucked into books authored by others, their arias of showers and baths and summer, their limbs that move so gracefully between stove and refrigerator, between table saw and tractor, bank and boardroom, soccer practice and surgical suite; limbs that execute entire suites of Swan Lake under the table at which you eat while you are too busy throwing peas to notice. I want you to see the tomes that somehow strode into the canon and know that for each one available at the library there are exponentially others that remain tucked under bedsheets, on the tips of fingertips and tongues, set aside nightly for lullabies and the holding of small hands in the dark.

I want you to reach out your hand and grab at the air, try to hold it within your fingertips, and in your futile attempts to grasp nothing and everything let the wind tickle you, see the butterfly land nearby, and in this gesture understand motherhood’s impossibility exactly. That you cannot hold the air but you can feel the wind. You cannot stop time but you can sense its passing. The butterfly will land, but perhaps not in your hand. You can still celebrate her beauty. Your hand may be tired and still you extend it. What you are holding/not holding will eventually be free of you and you encourage this even though it is a loss inside a gain.

Who would not want all of this that is Mother-Artist at the lead, an equal and valued voice in our society’s systems of culture, representation, governance, education, healing, health and opportunity? Who would not want this spaciousness to proliferate? We know what it is to be simultaneously seen (accused) and not seen (dismissed). We do not wish it for you. Why allow it to happen to us?

You must claim space for others, for the mothers.

You must claim space for others, for the mothers. We can get further faster if you open the door for us. We will leave it open behind us for more to pass through.  We are coming, now.

This column is part of The MAMAs / Mother Artists Making Art. The MAMAs and its sister subset The PAMAs / Pregnant Artists Making Art is leading a movement that foregrounds the value and visibility of mothers who make art.

The MAMAs embraces ALL who identify with the words Mother and Artist, including biological, adoptive, surrogate, foster, those who have experienced pregnancy or child loss, Trans, and non-binary parents; and passionate and/or professional creative practice across all forms and disciplines. The PAMAs welcomes people who birth.

This initiative was created in partnership between IFCAP (The Institute For Collaboration and Play) and PAAL (Parent Artist Advocacy League).

Both PAAL and IFCAP welcome all caregiving responsibilities and realities in the background or foreground of any meetings, phone calls, and exchanges and gladly receive your life in our pursuit of productive and supportive practices.

PAAL and IFCAP are transgender and non-binary affirming spaces.  We support a safe space for everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and beyond. Our programs are designed for anyone going through the huge changes we experience as artist-parents, whether that’s as someone who identifies as a mother or birthing person, including cis-, Trans and gender non-conforming parents and caregivers. “Mother” is for all who identify with it. PAAL is actively working to develop an organizational standard of language that expands caregiver terms off the binary.

PAAL and IFCAP commit to anti-racist roots in our structures, practices, policies, principles, and producing.

To learn more about The MAMAs/PAMAs, please click here, or visit us on Instagram.

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