The mothers of the maternal activism in arts and academy

Procreate Project is joining the Women's History month by celebrating women who have dedicated their lives to  help raising the voice and visibility of mothers within the arts and society 

For the past 20 years incredible women have worked to facilitate other women/mother’s artistic practises, professional and personal development.

We want to tell the story of pioneers of what is recognised today as maternal feminism movement.

First interview is with Martha Joy Rose, musician, community organizer, and museum founder. Her work has been published in blogs and academic journals and she has performed with her band Housewives On Prozac on Good Morning America, CNN, and the Oakland Art & Soul Festival to name a few. She is the NOW-NYC recipient of the Susan B. Anthony Award, her Mamapalooza Festival Series has been recognized as “Best in Girl-Power Events” in New York, and her music has appeared on the Billboard Top 100 Dance Charts. She founded the Museum of Motherhood in 2003, created the Motherhood Foundation 501c3 non-profit in 2005, saw it flourish in NYC from 2011-2014, and then pop up at several academic institutions. Her current live/work space in Kenwood St. Petersburg, Florida is devoted to the exploration of mother-labor as performance art. Recent publications include the edited collection, Music of Motherhood (2018) Demeter Press.

How did you start and why?

I had my first child in 1989. My video-artist husband recorded the birth which was intervention-free and facilitated by a midwife. Copies of that video started making the rounds of lower Manhattan alternative birthing classes. That year, I started a prepared parenting class because I felt there was so much information missing from the general body of knowledge. Then, we started our own neighborhood cooperative pre-school. I had three more children from 1991-1994. During my twenties, I never imagined having a family. I was completely taken with the arts and was a New York City “Certified Artist” living in a loft in downtown Soho making music and art. As a professional musician in the downtown post-punk scene, I’d had a couple of records on the Billboard dance charts, toured, and enjoyed success. However, once I became a mother, there was no stage, opportunity, or mouthpiece for me to express the transformation I had experienced. The journey from woman to mother appeared to be completely invisible within the arts. I identified an utter lack of maternal expression in the performing arts and felt determined to change that.  I started the band Housewives On Prozac in 1997.

How did you make your voice heard?

I just kept singing at the top of my lungs. I held a microphone like a sharpened stick and carved a dream in the sky. I gave up my comfort, my home, and my safe life to forge a trail. It was hard. Everything worthwhile has been impossible. There was no roadmap. But, I grew to become committed to a vision that was greater than myself. Just a few months after starting the band, the New York Times picked up on our story. Roberta Hershenson wrote an article called “Band Sings About What its Like to Raise a Family in the 90’s.” This was the first of what became an avalanche of press about mom rock and other bands soon followed. I realized we had to leverage the attention Housewives was getting for other women to gain visibility as well.The idea for MaMaPaLooZa developed in 2001 for that purpose. The mission of MaMaPaLooZa was (and still is) as follows):

Dedicated to serving, promoting, celebrating, encouraging, inspiring, and awakening ALL women through Media, Commerce, Connection, and Performing Fine Arts.

Our mission is to enlighten and empower all women to claim their voice by:

Establishing a new art form that speaks to the unique and collective perspective of women who are mothers, while sharing this with the world.

Creating sustainable programming and opportunities through ongoing events, merchandising, and media presentations.

Acting as a resource and lifestyle guide for women seeking support in mainstream and alternative settings.

Supporting the choices mothers have made while educating and empowering them in order to support these choices.

We recognize that art is a tool for social change. Mamapalooza encourages women to use their medium to build self-esteem, break down stereotypes, create unity, encourage diversity, inspire individuality, and empower future generations.

We recognize that art elevates the spirit in times of hardship and transition, lending joy to everyday life. Our creations celebrate our humanity, define our experiences, and serve as healers and peacemakers.

We recognize the vital importance to laying a new foundation for women who are mothers and the impact this has on future generations. Mamapalooza is strongly committed to our youth and is committed to changing the perception that children are a liability in the professional and performing arts world – they are often inspiration and foundation for our creative and commercial endeavors.

Connecting Women, Mothers and Families through Music, Art, Activism, and Education for Cultural, Economic & Social awareness. MOMS ROCK!

Why you were the one between hundreds of mothers to take action and initiate a movement?

Destiny, timing, ability, and a vision for change

What did it take?

To realize the goal of maternal visibility has been an act of utter and complete devotion. For 20 years, it has been my consuming task. Putting motherhood on the map, with lyrics, words, music, paint, and theoretical knowledge has the all-consuming goal. First I squatted in the dimly lit hallways of city hospitals to birth a future generation. Then, I fed them, loved them, and found my voice. I stood on the stage, on television, and in interviews spreading a message like the gospel. Then, I opened a store called Mommy Girl-Go Go and sold women-made, mom-branded merchandise. While there, in 2003, I sketched out the idea of a Museum of Motherhood on a scrap of paper after starting the MaMaPaLooZa festival series in between band gigs, a divorce, and raising children. The festival moved to 25 cities and four countries. I was living in the back of my store, responding to an overwhelming onslaught of e-mails from desperate mother artists. The band thrived from 1997-2008. Mamapalooza began in 2002 and is ongoing with New York Parks Department. The Museum and Mother Studies are passionate callings and the annual academic MOM Conferences (now renamed the “I <3 MOM Conference since moving to St. Pete), have been ongoing consecutively since 2005.

In 2010, we slammed through the streets of Seneca Falls, New York (birthplace of the American Suffragette movement) with street exhibits featuring the “Moms of Rock” which Lynn Barbuto made possible. Then, in 2011, because of a generous gift from Deb Whitefield and Barry Hanson we were given a low-rent, gorgeous space of 2,500 square feet to launch the museum initiative. 20,000 people visited. We welcomed families from all walks of life and all nationalities. It was beautiful every day, and I have never worked as hard in my entire life! We stayed in that space until 2014. During that time I developed a course in Mother Studies and worked with amazing women, who are academics and who are still my friends, who are each doing fantastic things. They are Roksana Badruddoja (Manhattan College), Laura Tropp (Marymount College), Aurelie Athan (Columbia Teachers’ College, and Joy Baum (Queens College).  

When the lease for MOM on the UES expired, I applied to graduate school so I could study with one of the founders of Mother Studies, Barbara Katz Rothman. I slept on the floor of my friend’s daycare in Manhattan so I could pay for graduate school at the age of 56 in order to get (the first ever) masters degree in Mother Studies – there wasn’t one, but we needed it, so I made it up. from the age of 32- the present day, I have invested my personal time and all of my money into creating opportunities for other mothers. I have the word devotion tattooed on my arm. “Devotion” is a completely absorbing task: Living it, breathing it, and embodying it. Not everyone has to do that, thank God(dess). but this was definitely a calling from deep within my bones. I do this for all the women who went before: my grandmothers, aunts, and mother who did not have the opportunity to make their labor visible, and for all the daughters, sisters, and mothers yet to come. Finding a voice and living autonomously in an embodied truth equals freedom, and everybody wants to be free.

How did you make it work around your family life?

My children have been collaborators, resisters, and active participants since day one. They sang on the first record, attended concerts and appeared on stage, and even got in my car when I picked them up at school in a large van that said “Housewives On Prozac- not just a band its a way of life”. Sometimes it was hard. They hated competing for time away with rehearsals or travel. They were embarrassed to have a mom who was so visible and visibly alternative. But, feminism was a way of life for them and they witnessed the importance of authenticity and perseverance.

The Idea: The idea for the band came to me in a dream. I came very close to dying after my daughter was born. I was sleeping a lot post-chemotherapy: in hospitals and at home. I had been diagnosed with SLE (Lupus) and renal disease brought on by the Lupus. Throughout this period (and even today), I believed that the illness was part of a soul contract which brought courage and clarity to life’s path and purpose. Music and social change for mothers became my absolute passion. I wanted to be the “Last American Housewife”. I didn’t want anyone else to have to struggle with the issues I confronted through the patriarchy, through violence and antagonism against women, and through financial disparities particular to motherhood. 

Meanwhile, the work has rarely been glamorous. We sang in local clubs, church basements, and rehearsed in my attic. We played in smoky bars where patrons screamed out “Play Free Bird” and we drove through the middle of the night, hauling heavy gear, exhausted and broke. The MaMaPalooZa Festival was more of the same, only intensified. Sometimes in New York, events would go for two weeks straight and I would drag myself from rock club to concert venue, to theater, to outdoor park, to poetry slam with very little sleep. But, there were successes. Visibility was increased. The music itself largely vanished, but I see the larger arts and academic movement alive and thriving. This is what I write about in the Music of Motherhood (Demeter Press, 2018).

What are your future plans I continue the work at the (Museum of Motherhood) MOM Art Annex in St. Petersburg, Florida. There are currently several remote internships ongoing. The “Residency” program is thriving. We welcome our sixth resident at the end of March since opening our doors in January 2017. Museum tours are ongoing by appointment and I gave six tours this week! I hope to continue to grow the museum project with the long-term vision of having a beautiful, dedicated, large space to continue to curate objects and information about the science, history, and art of motherhood. I am currently looking for outdoor sculptures about mothers, mothering, and motherhood for MOM if anyone has any leads or projects they’d like to send me? Please do!

There is currently an invitation on the table to return to Manhattan College to teach Mother Studies (an incredible opportunity), and I plan on starting that in the spring of 2019. I am hopeful there is still traction for aspects of MOM in New York and I’d like to pursue that as well. 

Meanwhile, I love to travel, so moving between New York and Florida would not be a problem. The Artist Enclave of Historic Kenwood is a place where I can practice my own art and share that with the community at large while sponsoring other women simultaneously through various Museum initiatives. The St. Pete Women’s Collective is down the street from me and we are forging relationships. The ongoing online MAMA exhibitions with ProCreate and the Mom Egg Review is also very important to me. It is an opportunity for the museum to keep current with the international arts and literature motherhood scene. 

At the moment, I am in the final stages of editing a memoir, called Sing Out Sister; songs and stories from the resistance, which I hope to finish up by the end of the summer, and I’m also scribing a Mother Studies 101 textbook.

My focus for the future needs to be aimed at broadly disseminating the information I have amassed over the years and passing the torch so that the work can continue.

March is Women’s’ History Month in the U.S.A. So, I’d like to dedicate all our future actions to the women who went before. Our foremothers are our foundation and we move forward because of their precedent. Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences. Sing out, sisters! Sing out LOUD! Here’s a link to the song “Mrs. President” – for which I still hold out hope.


M.A.M.A. Issue n.28: Rajaa Paixão and Gwen North Reiss

The ProCreate Project, the Museum of Motherhood and the Mom Egg Review are pleased to announce the 28th edition of  this scholarly discourse intersects with the artistic to explore the wonder and the challenges of motherhood. Using words and art to connect new pathways between the academic, the para-academic, the digital, and the real, as well as the everyday: wherever you live, work, and play, the Art of Motherhood is made manifest. #JoinMAMA

March, 2018 Art by Rajaa Paixão words by Gwen North Reiss

Art by Rajaa Paixão

Rajaa’s art practice tackles a conceptual and multidisciplinary approach, mainly encompassing sculpture and painting, turned into assemblages.

Having an overly dreamy and idealist nature, her thoughts tend to be too erratic and therefore overlapping, resulting in the abstraction and blurry perception of events, contrasted with the urge to reorder physical objects neatly, and naturally, the need to examine divergent themes.

Rajaa’s work process resembles a reverse visual digression, exploring the limits of her memory and imagination, and sharpening indistinct feelings through a dissected analysis of the subject; with the purpose of demystifying the complexity of an event and minimalising thematic narratives by stripping it to its essentials.

The choice of unconventional and diverse materials results from the study of the topic and the inspiration behind it. The role of a base/structure to hold or present the work is as essential to her as the artwork itself; and she only feels that the work is finished when both elements merge into one sculpture, with a clear correlation between all the displayed pieces.

“Becoming a mother was a massive challenge to reconcile my art process with my new status and responsibilities, and reintegrate creation in my daily life. It also changed the way I look at life and respond to change, something I’m happy to embrace and translate in my future work. I am currently exploring safe materials further, and implementing new techniques, which will allow me to maintain my practice in the presence of my son.”

Selected Projects:

– Left Overs no more

The body of work consists of an installation of 3 pieces encompassing painting (at times using one hand while holding a baby or rocking a pram with the other), and sculpture, using contrasted materials and techniques to create organic and industrial shapes.

Bringing together unfinished works and what seems to be an eternal work in progress, the artworks respond to the theme of Sanity and Motherhood, or what’s left of it.

The result involves a long process of what resembles an artistic therapy, in an attempt to extrude trapped emotions on canvas, morphing unconscious thoughts into a colourful interpretation, repetitive and identical gestures; assembled to create inner order, achieved in short saccadic intervals of interrupted time.

Echoing a prolonged chaotic mental and physical metamorphosis, the pieces reach a state of being almost finished, on the verge of being made sense of, figured out, endorsed; only to be soon hit by a triggered, sudden and uncontrollable wave of irrational fear backed with fury, spreading “like” fire, consuming every bit of vulnerable order recently restored.

The end result betrays an illusory freedom being brutally stripped off, the lie of being a separate and defined entity, provoking a loss of control and irreversible frustration, transferred onto the work.

What seems to be a hanging promise of accomplishment, just like the postpartum body and mind, displays signs of visible damages and cracks, hinting to the extent of the invisible ones.

In the end, each imperfect left over from an unfinished work manages to find balance and a purpose in filling a supporting role in the birth of a new coherent and complete entity.

– Berlin 78 Days Backwards

3 pieces tackling an impossible hypothetical yet actual attempt of a trip, using the power of physics and surrounding forces such as black holes, time and the speed of light.

A story about missing an art trip to Berlin, and deciding to travel virtually. The work result consists of a time machine (with hints to a torture tool from all the waiting and stressing), light and sand incubators, ‘theoretically’ meant to catch the light through a mirror and make the sand level rise, allowing the powers of physics to do their magic, and a black hole sound piece with a distorted recording of the unlimited calls made to the German Embassy.

Instagram @rajaapaixao

Words by: 

Gwen North Reiss

Oz

Like Dorothy you imagine

that someone will give you,

will have the power to

grant, I think was the word,

what you most want,

one thing that was so clear

when you started out

before you met all of these others,

before the dog met all of these others

who also searched for one thing.

You know the list, a heart,

courage, a nervous system etc.,

a way to get back to Point A.

The shoes were key—

the ones worn for a while

by an evil one and now irreversibly

yours because of the violent way you came

into this world, with feet,

fully formed. You were a bit rumpled,

and so serious, staring—

What an entrance! —

while others giggled and cooed

and asked who must you be.

You knew all along, but you had

to tell them in so many words,

reminding them at every turn

when you started walking,

when you reached the city,

and discovered the truth

about the great one.

By then they knew you well

enough to help you explain.

And you knew what they wanted

and knew what you would miss

about each one of them

when you left—or got back

whichever it was.

The day wishes were handed out like prizes

the great and powerful disappeared

in an instant, waving and yelling97

about accident and miscalculation,

which tipped you off to the sobering news

that you would have to do the rest yourself.

Not the cyclone this time,

but a letting go—colors reverting

to black and white, the memory

of faces you loved,

a hand on your brow.

Originally published in Mom Egg Review Vol. 15, 2017

Gwen North Reiss – Pen and Brush recently published a group of Reiss’s poems called “Paper Aperture” as part of their e-publication program. She studied poetry at the 92nd Street Y and was the recipient, in 2012, of the Unterberg Poetry Center’s Rachel Wetzsteon Prize. She has a degree in Literature from Yale and works as a writer and communications consultant.


M.A.M.A. Issue n.27: Carol Brunelli and L.B. Williams

The ProCreate Project, the Museum of Motherhood and the Mom Egg Review are pleased to announce the 27th edition of  this scholarly discourse intersects with the artistic to explore the wonder and the challenges of motherhood. Using words and art to connect new pathways between the academic, the para-academic, the digital, and the real, as well as the everyday: wherever you live, work, and play, the Art of Motherhood is made manifest. #JoinMAMA

February, 2018 Art by Carol Brunelli and Thayná Coimbra. Words by  L.B. Williams

Art by Carol Brunelli and Thayná Coimbra

Photographic manifesto Art and Motherhood

We open the door and invite you to see the shadows, shadows from the story of a woman surviving motherhood on a patriarchal society.

We recover what mother-being has of most human and instinctive, we search for the access to our lost ancestry.

Surviving motherhood on a patriarchal society is painful.

In this society, being a mother means always feeling guilty and tired, to do the job of a whole of society alone.

But beyond the oppressions being a mother is also being able to fight, to survive, to reinvent oneself and to reconnect to our inner nature and strength.

These photos are a manifest, they invite you to look at mothers with compassion, humanity and love.

They are an instrument used to seek a new identity, they deny the bourgeois myth of the all-loving, all-forgiving and all-sacrificing mother and try to reach that touching point of two distinct beings with their own dreams and wishes, passions and fears.

They bring humanity back to the women-mothers, putting them back in focus, the place where they belong in life.

We believe photography can transform and empower the way women see themselves as a woman and as a human being. We hope that through this personal experience of patriarchal oppression we can reach other women and mothers, and that together we can be stronger. Art can be powerful.

Let us rise.

The Muteness and the Scream
Carolina Brunelli

I have always believed in Art with a purpose. I have always believed that I needed a motive, a driving force of social change for my creative process to make sense. When I saw myself pregnant that feeling had simply gone. Perhaps by irony, the patriarchal oppression that I have never acknowledged in my own life, paralyzed me and the torrent of the classical dual feelings of motherhood threw me in a black hole. I no longer saw myself as an individual, a woman, an artist, nor could I see myself as an autonomous being.

This process of turning back to my old self took me three years. It was three years of creative labour to get through the cowardice of patriarchy that oppress women, creating an invisible work force for the perpetuation of the human life, shutting up feminine strength and independence. However, in my situation there is no specific villain, there is no false dichotomy of good and evil, only the branding print in the collective subconscious that women are responsible for raising their children.

During those three years, I had lost my identity and did not know where to start to get it back. That is until I came across “an Artist Residency in Motherhood”. This residency helped me uncover that I could unglue myself from the symbiosis that is to be a mother and retrieve my identity. My driving force of creation was slowly coming back. It has shown me that Motherhood is a fertile ground for social change and I could finally see that I was not the only one feeling this particular way. Through different readings from other artist mothers, I realised that what I was actually searching for was not an excuse to work, but a good enough excuse. It was not about the patriarchal oppression of feminine exclusivity in raising the children, nor the unfair share of the children´s care, even less the lack of the State support in the form of day-care and schools. It was finally clear to me, that I muted myself because of the lack of recognition of the artistic labour as a worthy enough labour for me to outsource the daily care of my son.

I´m an artist and I´m a woman. I believe in Art as a living force of change. For me, being a mother was not only to yield to all the patriarchal conjecture but to disbelieve in all those special values that made me who I was before, nullifying my own self. Using Art as an instrument and the Residency as catapult, I could see myself as a woman again, independent and above all as a capable individual.

I believe now that I should share this overwhelming experience of imprisonment and freedom. I should go out of my cocoon and show, through everything that I lived the importance of dealing with the Motherhood thematic in Arts. Motherhood needs to cease to be a taboo, to be unwelcome and shameful and can finally reach femininity´s real symbolism of ancestry strength.

Thayná Bonin, a special old friend, who is such a sensible photographer, suggested that her and I could co-create a project to deal with all these issues. Therefore, we have created a photographic manifesto to expose Motherhood in its deepest rawness, awkwardness and beauty.

L.B. Williams

WHEN YOU WERE WILD   

(after Louise Erdrich)

When you were far away

snow fell green

Where trees were white hoary mountains

When three hundred year old men

could sleep beneath eagles

and become boys again

When I called to you

my voice at first a whisper

When all the mandrake roots were

taken from the earth

When a wind sighing chant

brought you to me.

Originally published in Mom Egg Review Vol. 13

L.B. Williams is the author of, Letters to Virginia Woolf, (Hamilton Books, 2005). Her poetry has appeared in such publications as Washington Square, Mom Egg Review, Sunrise from Blue Thunder (A Pirene’s Fountain Anthology). She has also published two poetry chapbooks, Sky Studies, (Finishing Line Press Fall 2014), and The Eighth Phrase (Porkbelly Press, October 2014). A new poetry chapbook, In the Early Morning Calling, is forthcoming this year from Finishing Line Press. She is Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey. www.letterstovirginiawoolf.com