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 second interview is with Mila Oshin, artist, poet, singer and founder and co-director of the Digital Institute for Early Parenthood (DIEP.org.uk)

How did you start and why?

The difference between my first two birth experiences (one traumatic hospitalised birth and one homebirth without a midwife present) made such an impact on me that I had no choice but to dedicate a whole new body of work to my early parenthood journey. When I had finished this work, a collection of poetry and a music album named PASSAGE, I realised I had no idea where to place it within my own artistic trajectory or the art world at large, where parenthood is still deemed taboo as a status and inferior as a subject. Still, I could not imagine there were not more professional mother and father artists out there that had made important work about the transformational experience of pregnancy, birth and new parenthood. This led me to come up with the idea for curating the first international open exhibition in the world on the subject of early parenthood, Project AfterBirth

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

I literally spent months researching and networking, mostly online, to find arts organisations and artists to connect with from all over the world. It did not take long to find some great people like Joy Rose (Museum of Motherhood, New York) and Helen Knowles (Birth Rites Collection) who where very enthusiastic about my ideas for Project AfterBirth and became partners almost instantly. An exhibition like this was so long overdue and, given the fact that almost 95% of us are parents and that birth and new parenthood are in such an appalling state and given such an inadequate status in our Western society, it did not take long for the word to spread.

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

I think it was my particular experience, the two extremely opposed kinds of birth I had, in combination with my background as a socially critical artist and the many years I had already worked for other artists and arts organisations as an audience development advisor.

What did it take?

Everything! It still does. Most of the work we do remains voluntarily and because I share both my life and work with the same partner the Digital Institute for Early Parenthood (which came out of Project AfterBirth) has completely taken over our lives.

How did you make it work around your family life?

I am still not sure it works sometimes! My partner and I strongly believe in the importance of parents (or grandparents) looking after their own (grand)children in the early years and as neither of us have any family in the UK this has been really hard without any help with childcare, especially since we had another baby last year, just as our other two started school. My partner and I (Kris Jager) literally split our week in two where I look after the children and do school pick-ups 2.5 days per week and work 2.5 days, and he does too. It does not always work out and it means we live on a shoe-string budget all the time, but we do not mind the challenge and feel making a positive contribution to the world is important to us and also provides a good example for our children.

Tell us about what’s behind the scene.

Things have become quite tricky since baby number three appeared on the scene last year and I am seriously reconsidering my work/life balance at the moment as it does feel like I am putting an awful lot of work and time in and am not always getting enough back. My work as an artist has also had to take a backseat and this does not work for me and I have to find a way to fix this. Brexit has not helped either. The idea that after having lived, worked, paid taxes, volunteered and fought for important causes in this country for 22 years (all my adult life), I will soon be kicked out because I am European unless I pay for and fill in a document to prove I am entitled to settled status just feels really uncomfortable. It seems mad, especially as my partner and children are British. I have loved England all my life, but since Brexit I feel heartbroken and am questioning all my life’s decisions.

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

For me art, as the only universal language, has always been an incredibly powerful tool for social change. I have advocated for women’s rights through my work as an artist and curator all my adult life because I feel amplifying women’s voices or voices that reveal truths about the feminine experience is one of the most important tasks to have in a world that has been so deprived from these voices and that has suffered and caused so much suffering because of this for so long. Being a parent in this world I have now come to realise that outstanding autobiographical art by professional mother and father artists can not only be incredibly moving, it also provides truly unique and rare evidence about the reality of experiences such as conception, pregnancy, birth and new parenthood and how parents are just not getting heard and looked after in our society. It feels like a real privilege to be able to work with this art, bring it to the public and use it in educational initiatives that transform the views of those who will one day be responsible for future parents’ wellbeing such as midwifery and ob/gyn students.

What are the challenges and joys?

I think I have mentioned quite a lot of challenges already above! Funding is a huge issue, as you will know. We hear time and time again that our work is too education and research focused for arts funding, and is too art focused for education and research grants. We can’t seem to win! Still, the results of our work and the encouraging feedback we get on an almost daily basis, from parents, artists, medical professionals, students, etc. whom we work with or who have just heard about or experienced our work, makes it all worthwhile.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to have another poetry collection and music album out soon with Drunk With Joy. Also, especially now that my maternity leave has ended, it will be an important focus of the Digital Institute for Early Parenthood (DIEP) again to curate a unique rolling programme of exhibitions, events and festivals that promote outstanding international works of art on all kinds of early parenthood experiences to widespread audiences. We will also continue to work on our EPiC project (Early Parenthood in the Curriculum) which comprises our core educational work at DIEP. Through this we are developing and delivering an art based module for medical schools and midwifery colleges that teach students about all aspects of the lived maternity experience and their influence on it. Another core element and more long-term aim of the EPiC project at DIEP is to develop an art based programme about all aspects of the early parenthood experience (from conception to the early years) to integrate in secondary schools’ curriculum to help young people prepare for this challenging life experience and to give them a better chance of retaining good mental and physical health throughout.