About a week ago, I was asked whether I might want to write a piece or two for the arts section of the Bagpipe. “Sure,” I said, figuring it would be a simple task. I had taken a few art classes and been to a few gallery shows in high school, and it seemed like I could just throw down some artsy words about the use of the brushstrokes in the works or something. Couldn’t be that hard.
When I walked into the gallery on the opening night of the show I was given to review, however, I found myself very out of place. The works displayed around the room seemed to consist mostly of some flower-shaped purses, paintings of melancholy women, and a great host of nude female figures–one of which was incredibly pregnant and looked to be perched upon a bronze peanut M&M. The attendees of the show, while fully clothed, were also disproportionately female, with only a small handful of other men in the crowd. The title of the show, “Mother Artist/Artist Mother”, may have hinted at what to expect, but the overwhelming femininity of the show still felt instantly intimidating as a male reviewer.
As I took a cursory walk through the show, I tried to imagine what themes stood out enough to be pulled into a review. But as I looked at the show, I struggled to find a coherent shared message. How did Jean Wetta’s “Motherhood”, a portrait of a mother duck and her ducklings, relate to Phyllis Thomas’ “Unearthed Evidence”, which are an abstract acrylic paintings representing of her reaction the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls? If this show was about motherhood, what did it have to say about it?
Just as I thought this, however, a friend posed this question to me: “So, with this show being so intimate and feminine, what are your thoughts on it as a guy?” A bit frustrated, I replied, “I’m not sure… It’s just confusing.” It was only until quite a bit later that I realized that this answer had far more truth in it than I had intended.
Motherhood, to a young man, is an inherently foreign thing. It is a transformative role and phase of life that seems to envelope physical, mental, and spiritual life. And with its incredible power to transform and create, it is wildly unique to the female experience. And that makes it confusing, as it ought to be.
So, how is a man supposed to interact at this show? Or, for that matter, what about women who have yet to experience motherhood? The best suggestion I can give is to recognize the value of your own perspective as a son or daughter. While the show may be created by mothers, its meaning exists only in the context of the relationships around it, much like actual motherhood.
With this new lens, the wealth of mediums and perspectives becomes an invaluable opportunity for understanding our own relationships with our own family and others. A confusing show can suddenly serve as a vignette into the complex experiences of our own mothers. The daughter sitting on the bed of her first apartment in Grace Prescott’s “Grace at Home” becomes a vivid testimony of the natural parental loneliness that college students so often dismiss as a nuisance. Or Sarah Hempel Irani’s “Dok Suni”, better known as the sculpture of that peanut-perched woman, may hint at the overwhelming power and presence of motherhood, both in body and mind.
I should probably mention that every piece is beautiful, crafted with obvious care, and worthy of praise simply as a visual piece, whether or not its meaning is apparent. But as you walk through, try and make the small investment of time that can potentially connect you to your mother a lot more than some Skype call on Sunday afternoon.