Back to the Mothership: Local artists explore the complexities of art and motherhood in new exhibition

Family dynamics, self-doubt and even the earth are among the topics explored in Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art’s latest exhibition The Mothership.

'It's a community here, and you feel lifted up'

From left, Loricia Pacholko-Matheson, Briony Haig and Sandra Brown are members of Mentoring Artist for Women's Art's group for artist mothers. Their work appears in the latest exhibition The Mothership. (Laura Atherton/CBC)

Family dynamics, self-doubt and even the Earth are among the topics explored in Mentoring Artists for Women's Art's latest exhibition The Mothership.

The exhibition, on display at MAWA's Main Street location until May 24, paints a thought-provoking picture of the changing relationship that women artists have with their work once they become mothers.

The Mothership is put on by MAWA's Artist Mothers Group, which meets every month to critique each other's work, share ideas and experiment with different materials.

Each May, leading up to Mother's Day, they hold an exhibition showcasing each year's worth of work. This year, mother artists were invited to submit artworks centred around the theme of "the mothership" — however it may be interpreted.

Artist Loricia Pacholko-Matheson, whose painting Foemina appears in the exhibition, said for her, MAWA is her mothership, offering a community and incentive to create art.

In creating Foemina, she said she was thinking about how her biggest struggle with creating art after she had kids was not a lack of time, but a sense of guilt that came with doing something for herself rather than for her children.

"There's a guilt factor that comes with mothering — that you should be cleaning, you should be preparing tomorrow's lunches," Pacholko-Matheson said.

"As women, it's really important for us to allow ourselves that time to reconnect with who we are internally, because we're always giving, giving, giving and we can't share ourselves if we don't keep ourselves full."

Loricia Pacholko-Matheson’s piece, Foemina centers around themes of self-care and self-love. The work is her return after taking a break from painting for six years to focusing on a ceramics degree. (Laura Atherton/CBC)

MAWA's Artist Mothers Group describes the need for creating art among some mothers as "an oxygen mask one must put on before assisting little ones." Pacholko-Matheson said for her, creating art as a mother has reminded her that in order to care for others, she has to first care for herself.

Having children is actually what caused her to start getting serious about her creative process.

"My daughter was in the hospital for an extended length of time and the the nurses said, 'You need to get out of here and go something else,'" Pacholko-Matheson said. "Without that, I don't know if I'd have had the chutzpah to really go for it."

Sandra Brown, facilitator of the Artist Mothers Group said she had a similar experience once she had kids. She said she loved art as a kid, but never pursued it until she was stay-at-home mother, thinking of ways to alleviate boredom.

"I think I always had that in me, it was just very deep and I just never had the time to pursue it. And because I was a stay-at-home mother, I was kind of going crazy with boredom and so that's when I picked up art again."

Although Brown facilitates the Artists Mothers Group, she said the process for creating the exhibitions is very collaborative. Group members had been tossing around ideas surrounding The Mothership exhibition for a while.

In the exhibition, Brown takes the theme quite literally, creating a fleet of flying vessels that hang from the gallery's ceiling, carrying small plastic figurines of babies. She said the piece, called Festival of the Motherships, represents her playful dual interpretation of "mothership" as referring to a technological vessel as well as women's bodies.

"I was thinking a lot about women as vessels who basically birth all of humanity," Brown said. "And my youngest just left for Thailand, She's never been out of the house, she didn't even like sleepovers as a kid, and here she is teaching in Thailand. So it's a really weird experience because my baby is halfway around the world. So I think that has something to do with these flying airships."

Sandra Brown’s piece features various hot air balloons and air vessels carrying babies, made from found objects and paper mache. (Laura Atherton/CBC)

Brown also said she interprets "mothership" as a title or status. "Think about the aristocracy like lordship and ladyship. Mothership deserves that kind of status, because we work hard at this and deserve a higher status than we get."

Artist and MAWA board member Briony Haig, whose work also appears in the exhibition, interpreted "mothership" in an unexpected way — through her relationship with the earth. Her painting Standing Room Only features a view of a crowded Winnipeg bus, with text saying "Frequent, Affordable, Accessible" and "Threats or assaults will not be tolerated" embedded within the scene.

Briony Haig said her piece reflects the problems with Winnipeg’s transit system that she said need to be solved to make busing more attractive as a move toward a healthier climate. (Laura Atherton/CBC)

She said the work aims to highlight the problems with Winnipeg's transit system, including affordability and harassment issues, which she says need to be improved and made more accessible as a climate initiative to protect the Earth. She said the painting reflects the climate anxiety she feels in doing everyday activities.

"I'm worried actually, because we keep doing the same thing, like driving our cars with one person in it. And I'm not going to lie — I do that too."

'You feel lifted up'

Haig said that although she's been creating art for her whole life, having children has opened up the opportunity for her to have a community with the women around her.

"To me, the most amazing thing about having a child was I felt sisterhood with mothers all over the world. I also understood my mother better, which is a big deal," Haig said.

To Haig, MAWA's Artists Mothers Group offers a space not only for mother artists to get together and share the things they're working on, but to elevate and advocate for the recognition of the artwork of women in general, which she said she had a hard time with in terms of believing in her own artistic abilities.

"It's not just me, but the entire culture at large basically telling women, 'Your art is not good enough'," Haig said. "It's a community here, and you feel lifted up."