Jo Mary Watson, Reflection

In the following reflection I am using the words “Motherhood” and “Parenthood” to talk about the focus I have set on my work for the Independents Biennial and my practice in general. Those words, the former mainly, describes my reality and experiences regarding my identity of being a cis gendered woman best, but is by no means meant exclusive. Please note that those words are synonyms for each other, as well as “Fatherhood”. Depending on your own identity, reality, and experiences, please use whatever word feels best for you.

I describe my practice as “mostly writing and also chaos”.

This is because I am a writer who, due to ADD, depression and anxiety, struggles a lot with productivity, concentration, and the ability to function in a capitalist system that focuses so heavily on (marketable and monetizable) end products.

Learning about how Independents Biennial, instead of focussing on outcomes, works without a theme and highlights that ideas can form and change at any time and point in the creative process, made me want to get involved immediately.

Even though I love and support the idea of transparency regarding working and sharing my own creative processes and unfinished ideas publicly, I paradoxically decided to set a focus that comes with a need and an importance of keeping most of the work private:

The Impact of Motherhood on being an Artist.

Becoming a parent shifts and changes your identity in ways unimaginable beforehand.

I hide a lot of the negative and heavy feelings that come with being a Mother, because they carry tremendous amounts of guilt and shame, and are massive triggers regarding not feeling good enough. Those feelings are probably strengthened by my Imposter Syndrome and various other symptoms of medical concerns, however that does not make them less valid, or myself less deserving of a safe space to explore and share them.

This, knowing that I am not the only Mother longing for a space like it, and only seeing one other artist publicly sharing some pieces of their maternal experiences, within the context of IB, made me want to set a focus on this topic. 

So, I have spent most of my time during the festival in private conversations with other artists, some of them involved in the Independents Biennial themselves, and others not. Mothers and Fathers, talking about what impact having children had/ has on their practices and identities as artists.

I have heard stories about only children (like mine), siblings with big and short age gaps and twins; Stories about boys, girls and non-binary children. Stories about the wish to become a parent, about trying (once or for years), about IVF, fostering and adoption. Stories about easy births, traumatic births, c-sections, complications, stillbirths, and miscarriages. Stories from single, married, unmarried, straight and queer parents. Stories from parents who still parent their inner child, bravely trying to break old habits, and stop the cycle of generational trauma being passed on; Stories about infants, toddlers, teenagers, adult children, grandchildren.

There were only a handful of people that I asked for their involvement that I already knew. All other parents generously offered me their time, stories, vulnerabilities, fears and views into their private life without knowing me or my practice before I contacted them.

What is important here and in general, is of course to be open regarding your own experiences. I could and would never ask for stories of such vulnerable nature without sharing my own. Opening up space for others to feel seen and heard is massively important to me, it was therefore never a question of only taking; It was and is always about collaboration and connection.

I am so grateful for the trust I have been given and the other parent’s belief in my abilities to hold space and love for all the things – heavy and light – that have been shared with me. At the same time, I am thankful for the room that others have opened for me and the ways they have kept me safe.

When struggling with Imposter Syndrome, you feel like you are a fraud, like you do not belong and that in the next second others will find out. Trying to juggle Motherhood and being an artist feels like that too, a lot of the times. You feel like you must handle both at a hundred percent without letting them negatively influence each other, all whilst living in a capitalist society that expects you to nurture without nurturing you back.

Feelings of failure are inevitable, and you end up thinking you neither fully belong in Motherhood, or artist spaces, or any other part of your identity.

In the conversations I had it became clear, that art, in whatever form regarding each individual practice, takes on the role of maintaining oneself.

For some, being an artist is an “escape” from parenthood; a way to create a difference between those parts of their identity.

Others involve their child(ren) sometimes, a lot, or always; their practice becomes part of their parenting and a way to express both identities at the same time.

Being a Mother is part of everything I do, I am not able to disconnect it from myself. And I do not want to. So, the way that maintaining myself, as well as my practice, works best for me, is involving my child as much as possible; sharing with her what I love while at the same time showing others how much becoming a Mother has changed me and the way I can and want to work.

The Independent Biennial has given me the opportunity to create and explore safe spaces – guilt and judgement free, from parent to parent. The act of holding space for one another and sharing happy, vulnerable and painful moments can make the voice telling you you’re an imposter disappear: you belong in those moments and connections, you deserve to expand.

After feeling how safe, healing and therefore sacred spaces like this are, I have, contrary to what the Independents Biennial is about, not been transparent about all my processes, thoughts and ideas. I want to share the vulnerabilities of artists that gave me consent to do so, while at the same time protecting the individuals.

The importance and need of a safe space and preserving its privacy makes the work I have done in the last three months just the start of its exploration. And I do not believe that there ever is an end to it.

Motherhood is never finished, there is an Undoneness about it.

With “undone” I mean “not finished” in this context; never being finished with anything before something else is needed, never being done being a Mother.

Simultaneously it means “becoming undone”: falling to pieces, breaking into bits.

In German that translates to “Auseinanderfallen” or “Zusammenfallen”.

The latter is, like so often in German, two words put together which translated back to English are: “together” (zusammen) and “falling” (fallen).

Together Falling / Falling Together.

Motherhood: falling to pieces and pieces falling together at the same time.

There is something about this that other Mothers can understand. And that is needed.

Even though every single story I have heard has been completely unique, this feels like a collective experience. My conversations with other parents have created bonds, we carry each other’s stories in our minds now, always holding that space for the other Mother’s grief, the other Father’s guilt and all other collective worries and joys.

We belong because and despite of that.

“Belonging is not a one-and-for-all condition, a static identity tattooed on our skin; it is a constant self-examination and dynamic revision of where we are, who we are, and where we want to be.”

(Elif Shafak – How to stay sane in an age of division)