MOTHER ART, artist collective
Mother Art, a collective of women artists, dedicated to creating social-political art, was most active during the 1970′s and 1980′s. By gathering women’s personal stories and crafting them in such a way as to incite collective action and intervention, the collective personalized issues, such as the social invisibility of maternal labor and the impact of the lack of socially supported day care on professional practices of working artist-mothers.
They went on to create installations and public performances dealing with those women marginalized from society, including immigrant mothers, women who faced abortion when it was illegal, homeless women and more. All the topics they dealt with came from a desire to create a social practice that could reach beyond the confines of traditional art spaces. All the issues they explored are still relevant today.
In 2012 Mother Art created a video of their history. This 40-minute documentary tells of the odyssey of the collective from youth through middle age as they created art installations in galleries and public spaces, were vilified by conservative politicians and perservered to speak truth to power.
In 2000, Mother Art had a retrospective, and since that time, have been included in a number of important exhibitions focused on women and women’s art collectives. Mother Art has published a book and produced a video about their collective art practice. (Text courtesy motherart.org)
Members Deborah Krall, Suzanne Siegel and Laura Silagi generously take time to share with LFF about how they came together to form the collective, their tenacity and feminism, how motherhood has impacted their selves and work, advice for aspiring artists and much more…
Where are you from? How did you get into art?
The three members of the Mother Art Collective are Deborah Krall, Suzanne Siegel and Laura Silagi. We have each had a life long interest in art.
Laura Silagi is from NYC and went to museums as a young child and took afterschool painting classes in elementary school. She went to the high school of Music and Art. She majored in art at Antioch College, studied art at UCSD and the Feminist Studio Workshop.
Originally from Ohio, Suzanne Siegel lived in a number of cities and countries. This exposed her to many different cultures and landscapes. She first studied art with Sister Corita at Immaculate Heart College, graduated from UC Berkeley, went on to the Feminist Studio Workshop and later earned an MFA from UCLA.
Deborah Krall grew up in Portland. As a child, she took art classes at the local art museum and went on to study art in many schools. She received an MFA from UCLA.
Performance piece: “Even If Its You”: In 1981, Mother Art created a series of installations and performances dealing with the topic of women’s reproductive rights. We recorded stories of women telling about their experiences when abortion was illegal, and incorporated these audio recordings into an installation in a janitor’s closet at SPARC Gallery in Venice, California, as well as a performance in Santa Monica, CA. In 1983, we created a performance/installation at the Long Beach Museum of Art in Long Beach, California. (Courtesy motherart.org)
Tell me about your inspirations, process.
Social and political issues, especially those touching our lives as women and mothers, have inspired us as Mother Art. Our process is collaboration, in which each of us contributes ideas. Early on, our collaboration was a matrix with each individual contributing her own artwork within a framework. We evolved into using a collaborative model, where there was shared ownership of ideas, processes, and art production. We learned from each other’s strengths and abilities.
One avenue Mother Art has explored is the concept of locating art, both performance and installations, in public spaces outside the traditional gallery sphere such as in Laundromats, a parking garage, a warehouse in downtown L.A., and a janitor’s closet in an art gallery, the Federal Building in Los Angeles, outside banks, and on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. We also exhibited in numerous art galleries.
"Homeless Women" installation: In the 1980′s, with a growing number of homeless women on the streets of Los Angeles, Mother Art
became concerned. We interviewed and photographed women in order to share their stories. The women we met were all staying in a homeless shelter in Los Angeles. In 1984, we created an installation that combined photographs, text and floor painting. (Courtesy motherart.org)
Much of our art has been based on personal narratives we have collected. Our pro-choice pieces, performance and installation, “The “Museum of Illegal Abortion” and “Even If It’s You,” used stories of women who underwent abortion before it was legal. For our “Homeless Women” installation, we interviewed and photographed women in a shelter, and for “Flowers for Four Women”, a piece illuminating the struggles of immigrants from Central America, we gathered stories from women who fled their countries due to war and violence.
"Homeless Women" photograph: We also produced a photographic series with the text of each woman’s story told in her own words. (Courtesy motherart.org)
Tell me about your current project and why it’s important to you.
Mother Art is focusing on distribution of our documentary, “Mother Art Tells Her Story.” Educational institutions, art and women’s studies departments are our target audience for purchase of our documentary. Our film is important since the issues we dealt with in the years we were most active from 1973 to 1987 are all relevant today. We were pioneers in social practice, and in creating feminist art in public spaces.
Tell me about Mother Art—how did that get started? Why is it important to you?
In 1972, some of us experienced discrimination by “feminists” at the first year of the Feminist Studio Workshop, located in the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles. Many women there felt it was not possible to be an artist if you were a mother. So, those of us with young children came together to fight the stereotypes that viewed mothers as solely interested in children and nothing else. We viewed all women as having the potential to achieve great things. At the same time, we started to look at the strengths that being mothers added to our understanding of the world. Then, four of us, who were in the Feminist Studio Workshop in 1972, started Mother Art, which at first functioned as a consciousness-raising group. Our first performative action was to build a playground at the Woman’s Building since there was nothing provided for children. We advertised for other mothers to join us, and soon we had two more members. In total, eight women participated in Mother Art at various times. We met and talked about ourselves as mothers and artists and delved into issues of background and class, curated exhibitions on the topic of motherhood and shared our individual work. Over time, Mother Art evolved into a more politically oriented group, dealing with issues outside of the direct topic of motherhood.
"Dancing with Mother Time," 2013: In 2012, Mother Art created an installation that celebrated our experiences as mothers.
We paired adjectives in shoes and foot-prints to describe the different moods and feelings we have experienced with our children, from infancy to adulthood. The shoes and footprints were arranged in dance steps, illustrating the fancy footwork required of mothers. (Courtesy motherart.org)
Artist Wanda Ewing, who curated and titled the original LFF exhibit, said of her work: “I’ve been making provocative art with a political edge in my Midwestern hometown since 1999. And to do that, you have to be tenacious as hell.” Are you tenacious in your work or life? How so?
Mother Art is involved in exploring the social/political issues of our times through a collective art practice. We have gained from each other in terms of pooling and developing our skills and ideas. This process has been evolving for over 40 years. Recently we completed a 40 minute documentary, “Mother Art Tells Her Story”, and a book, “Mother Art: A Collective of Women Artists”, examining our history. Both are available through our website, motherart.org. With our long history, one could say that we are very tenacious.
"Mother Art Cleans Up Again" (Courtesy motherart.org)
Ewing, who examined perspective of femininity and race in her work, spoke positively of feminism, saying, “Yes, it is still relevant” to have exhibits and forums for women in art; does feminism play a role in your work?
Feminism is the basis for our work as Mother Art. We see feminism as a way of viewing the world, and as a goal for all. To us feminism is a vision of equality and cooperation in a non-hierarchical society. We have participated in many exhibits and forums for women artists and we find them to be inspiring and engaging.
"Mother Art Cleans Up Again" (Courtesy motherart.org)
Also—does motherhood play a role in your work? Career?
Motherhood has taught us many things. It is important as a way of understanding a connection to the world, to the unending cycle of life. We are united by this experience, and it has created a basis and enhancement toward an empathetic view of humanity. For us this leads to the idea that nature is not to be exploited for momentary gain, and we are part of a natural cycle. All of nature must sustain future generations.
Ewing’s advice to aspiring artists was “you’ve got to develop the skill of when to listen and when not to;” and “Leave. Gain perspective.” What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
We think it important for artists to trust themselves and to experiment with all sorts of forms as they find their own way. Hopefully, they are involved in the world and use all experience as fuel for their creativity. We found the collaborative process of Mother Art extremely valuable. We were able as a collective to create installations and performances that we probably would not have been able to produce alone. As a collaborative group, there has to be trust and respect. Giving everyone a chance to be heard and arriving at consensus for decisions are feminist tenets.
On a mundane level, we would have to say that it’s very important to document your work. We have used that documentation, both photographs and videos, as source material for our documentary.
For more information on Mother Art, their book, documentary or any of their work or projects, visit motherart.org.
Les Femmes Folles is a completely volunteer run organization founded in 2011 with the mission to support and promote women in all forms, styles and levels of art with the online journal, anthologies, books, exhibitions and events; originally inspired by artist Wanda Ewing and her curated exhibit by the name Les Femmes Folles (Wild Women). LFF was created and is curated by Sally Deskins. LFF Books is a micro-feminist press that publishes 1-2 books per year by the creators of Les Femmes Folles including Intimates & Fools (Laura Madeline Wiseman, 2014). Other titles include Les Femmes Folles: The Women 2011, 2012 and 2013, available on blurb.com,(get 15% your blurb purchase using code BLURB2014 expires 6/30/14) including art, poetry and interview excerpts from women artists. A portion of the proceeds from LFF books and products benefit the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Wanda Ewing Scholarship Fund.