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.

Our third interview is with Amy Dignam, artist and founder of Desperate ArtWives

How did you start and why?

It was the beginning of 2011. I was looking around the net trying to find some sort of artist opportunity. By then I had two small children and by the next month I ‘d be pregnant again with my third. I felt so lonely within the art environment. All call outs seemed to be directed at artists that weren’t me. They were artists who didn’t have kids, they had a studio, they had money but most of all they had time. I had none of these, apart from kids. I had plenty of those, but I also had dedication and passion.


Desperate Artwives Take Over 2017

One afternoon walking down the South Bank I seemed to have suddenly unlocked something important and I thought that surely there must have been many women like me out there, women artists who were also mothers who needed that support, encouragement, conversation and exchange. I needed to find out but how?

Only a few months before I had lost my mother to cancer and after a long period of pain and grieving I felt lost. But suddenly the idea of developing this project gave me a sense of purpose and hope. I feel that I owe everything to my mother because her teachings, her words and her love were all finally taking shape. She taught me to have the strength and determination I needed to follow my beliefs, set up the group, and make it all happen. All of a sudden I wasn’t afraid to try and for the first time ever I completely trusted myself and just followed my instincts. That is how the Desperate Artwives Project came about initially.

How did you make your voice heard and why did people followed you?

Soon afterwards I set up a Facebook and Twitter account calling out to and trying to connect with, all women-mother-artists. I’d share my thoughts and sentiments becoming steadily more aware of my new status of mother and artist. Social media really helped me reached out to people. It became my amp through which my voice was broadcast to the world of mothers. As soon as my first tweet went out it became crystal clear to me, how much women needed this connection, this (virtual) space to share.

Feedback began to flow in and it was overwhelming. Emails came from women all over the globe sharing their stories of loneliness and isolation. The emails revealed women mother artist’s current making and living circumstances. They were often working at the kitchen table, in between toddler’s naps and the school run. They were frequently working in a way that included their surrounding domestic environment, making their personal everyday lived experience public. I began an online gallery by adding their names, general information and a few examples of their work. This gallery originally held over 100 artists coming from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. The collection kept on growing and at that point all I wanted was to physically get all the work together and curate a show where mother artists were at the centre of it and where they could be made visible.

The idea and need for this initiative could have came from anyone going through the same experience, why were you the one, out of hundreds of mothers, to take action and initiate a movement?

Now I can see that I have always had it within myself to be a pathfinder and an enabler. It had never been obvious to me before but now I know that’s just part of who I am. It feels like a vocation. I dedicate myself in creating opportunities for women, facilitating relationships, supporting and encouraging conversations and making things happen. Of course, mother artist collectives have happened before – I am thinking of the ‘Mother Art’ group in California which started addressing the issues of artists as mothers transferring the values of home into the public space way before I was even born , that was 1973! But back when I started in 2011 I didn’t really know – I did find out soon afterwards that great organizations such as the Museum of Motherhood in the States and Enemies of Good Art in the UK were already up and running.

I believe Desperate Artwives was back then one of the first mother artists project in the UK that launched an online gallery and started campaigning for women artists who are also mothers. Our first exhibition in 2012 took place at the Vibe Gallery in Bermonsdey London and included 21 mother artists. Since then we have had 6 exhibitions, 2 gallery takeovers, 1 public Takeover and launched a campaign (United Despite the Distance) to support the invisible and repetitive work that mothers carry out daily. We have also provided various other opportunities including, the launch of the very first Mother Artists online Auction, and the development of workshops entirely dedicated to mothers who are artists.

Desperate Artwives exhibition - Crypt Gallery 2012

What did it take?

It has taken many sleepless nights and erratically run days. It has taken an understanding and encouraging family and good, reassuring friends who always have my back. It has taken people that believe in what I do, people who trust me and see my vision. Desperate Artwives couldn’t exist without all these people and because of this I like to refer to the project as a ‘collective’ because it’s very important to me to get people involved. I like to give the option to women to jump on and off the project and assist, take, guide, interact with whatever they feel is relevant allowing them to use the platform that I have so conscientiously put together. It has taken generous people who have offered support to the Desperate Artwives, be it an exhibition space, a piece of writing, physical help or just moral support. I think it’s important to mention them; Nadia Spita from Art Café London, Barbican Arts Group Trust, Eti Wade, Adriana Cerne at Leyden Gallery, Susan Merrick, Ema Mano Epps at Platform 1 gallery and most recently Katy Howe who has officially joined the project in September 2017. All the amazing supporters – Procreate Project, the Women’s Art Library, FiLiA, M/other Voices, Leyden Gallery, Platform 1 Gallery, Museum of Motherhood, the Guerilla Girls themselves and of course all the artists who through the years, have trusted me with their work and supported all my initiatives! Whatever it is that I do wouldn’t have had life without all this incredible backbone I consistently worked on for the past 7 years.

How did you make it work around your family life?

People always seem shocked when I tell them what I have done (and still do) whilst running a family of 5. Of course it is always a challenge to make things work around family life and the most common word that comes out when talking about this topic is ‘balance’. It is very common to think that ‘balancing’ career and motherhood is the key but this is not entirely true, for me anyway. Possibly ‘multitasking’ is more the word that suits me but the truth is, I just do it! I get on with it and do it. I often write ‘call outs’ or develop ideas whilst cooking dinner for example. I have been taken apart and put back together several times during these past 10 years of mothering. I have had periods of utter chaos where I have completely crumbled and stayed that way for a significant amount of time but now, now I have learned to work in ‘mama time’ and the people I work for and with are all aware of this and most of them also work within the same time zone! I feel very strongly about introducing this to the rest of the world, perhaps if that happened, we could break the assumption that being a mother often still means being economically dependent on men. Desperate Artwives does just that. It arranges professional art opportunities “in mama time” giving mother artists the space and time to exist and validating their work in doing so.

Working at a project whilst mothering fits perfectly. It is also a great source of inspiration and motivation, my children are frequently included in my work, they are very often present during the setting up of an exhibition, and images of the artist’s work are always available around the house for them to look at. My kids learn from my practice and I learn from their realities and dreams. Our lives are in tune and being an artist and a feminist is certainly influencing their lives’ strategies and their interpretation and experience of life.

Bala Live - Desperate Artwives Leyden Gallery 2017

What does it mean for you to facilitate other Women’s art?

The idea of facilitating other women’s art work has become absolutely everything for me. I love and admire every single artist that has worked with me. I am so enthusiastic about showing their work just as if it was my own. Some of the artists have become friends and I’m always interested in what they have to say and want to hear their voice. I feel I deeply understand their work, their ideas and I entirely acknowledge their position in life.

However, it is not just about making mother artists visible but it s also about challenging society to come out and understand and value our role as Mothers and Artists. I find it very discouraging when I read about how it seems we as women have to pick a side, and decide whether to be mothers or artists. This is something that is never leveled at male artists. It is a suggestion that is insulting and uninformed altogether on so many levels.

So from offering a platform to mother artists the mission has now got bigger and bolder through the years. – ‘We are not trying to do both’ we ARE doing both because we ARE both, we are multidimensional human beings and mothering happens to be a part of our lives along with being artists and many other things!

A revolution is necessary sometimes to create a fundamental change in the world. Revolutions have occurred throughout human history and have resulted in big changes. Projects like the Desperate Artwives Public Takeovers organized together with Artist Susan Merrick or the ‘United despite the distance’ campaign (2017) focused on aiming to create a global visual narrative in which people can begin to understand the enormity of the issue.

What are your plans for the future?

It does seem that women artists who are also mothers are slowly becoming more visible, it’s a very slow-moving process and so much work still needs to be done, but more organizations are forming that are offering support to this group of artists. Like women’s issues in general, they are becoming more prevalent in society as a whole with far more discussions being had. This is a big step in the right direction.

However, it is hard work to keep the project going. There are very long hours to contend with and the lack of funding is especially difficult and frustrating. What keeps me going is my determination to empower and support women and this is exactly what I am planning for the future – more and continuous opportunities for mother artists and for women in general.

My ultimate plan is, and always has been, to try and find a home for the Desperate Artwives project. A gallery space where we can live permanently, a space where we could begin to balance out the gender inequality of the art world… watch this space, the future is definitely female!

Desperate Artwives Exhibition - Lower Marsh 2016