Using my own postpartum and motherhood experiences as inspiration and reference, I make art across mediums to express the suppressed emotions and burdens of mothering and caregiving in contemporary society. The mother figures are slumped, holding themselves up under immense weight, and either faceless or with faces overwhelmed by intense emotion. In my embroidery series, self-portraits are stitched in dusty cream colored thread that is nearly camouflaged against stained, once white kitchen towels that have been jaggedly cut in half. The faces are expressive, sometimes grotesquely so, conveying emotions that are often viewed as inappropriate for a mother in our society to have–rage, exhaustion, regret, ambivalence; faces that I reenacted privately for photo references. In contrast, the mother figures in my collage series are faceless. Their identities have been wiped away as they attempt to tend to the endless daily caregiving tasks while scores of child figures drag, climb, and play on them. This is an expression of American society’s assumption of the mother’s previous identity being erased. The child figures are colored vibrantly and cut from my children’s discarded artwork. They easily eclipse the neutral colored mother figure, cut from used parchment paper, just as a mother’s needs and desires are often overshadowed by those of her children. My work uses personal experience as a point of departure to portray and normalize ambivalence as part of the maternal experience–feeling intense negative emotions as well as unconditional love; enjoying time with one’s children as well as feeling held back or overwhelmed by them. As mainstream media and contemporary culture propagate a myth of the “perfect” or “ideal” mother, my work pushes back by validating the complicated, tense, ambivalent reality of caregiving and asserting the value of a more honest conversation about caregivers’ complex identities.
katiegresham, “Katie Gresham,” Artist Parent Index , accessed December 2, 2023, http://artistparentindex.com/items/show/664.
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