For this Mother’s Day, May 9, 2021, artists who are mothers have shared some words with Glasstire. The first story comes from North Texas-based Jessica Fuentes, who was quick to point out the glaring problem with the premise, but nevertheless agreed to write a bit about the balancing act required by being both a mom and an artist.
“I have conflicting thoughts about this question ‘How do Artists/Mothers do both?’ First, I feel that this question isn’t asked of Artist/Fathers, so it’s frustrating when I feel mothers are treated differently. But, it is true that society treats mothers differently and puts certain expectations on us as caregivers, so maybe it is a fair question to ask.
“For a while, I was a single mother. I worked full time, I pursued my Master’s degree, I created art, and I raised my daughter. It was a lot to juggle, but perhaps made easier because I found the intersections of all of these things and merged them together. My thesis was an arts-based collaborative research project that involved my young daughter. We visited art museums together, took photographs, made art, and wrote about our experiences with educational materials in local museums.
“For me, that really set a precedent. As a photographer, I would take my daughter with me on trips to photograph nature and often, she would inevitably become part of the imagery in my work. For me, my roles as a mother and artist infiltrate every aspect of my life. When I’m working, I’m thinking about art education through the lens of a mother and an artist. When I’m making art, I’m thinking about my art through the lens of an educator and a mother. When I’m parenting, I’m thinking about my childrens’ experiences through the lens of an artist and educator.
“And now, I’ve been in a committed relationship for 6 years, which makes things much easier. People often ask me how I have time to do all the things I do: work, research, art, parent, etc. The truth is, I’m fortunate to have a dedicated partner who supports me in all aspects of what I do. It would be much more difficult to do what I do without him taking on an equal role as a caregiver to our children.”
“Having just submitted my external review book and being in the end of my tenure process at Baylor, I’ve been doing lots of reflection, like breastfeeding for about 8 years in total (twins for two of those years); making multiple bodies of work and traveling for research; going through tenure twice with kids and pregnancy; teaching until the day before giving birth and being in class a week later. Wearing babies in the studio and to class, doing a two-person show (making a 12 ft painting plus others) while on bedrest with twins, have a solo show with a two-week-old baby and 5 others in tow — the kids are just with me always… and I’m driven by them.
“I’ve filmed our video projects pregnant in the desert and worn babies as I’ve given lectures. Motherhood is part of my unique perspective on landscape — I’ve embraced it and kept the kids close — which I believe makes the landscape even more sublime. Of course it would not be possible without [my husband] Angel [Fernandez] being an enormous part of this artist endeavor.”
In a phone conversation with Sudhoff, she shared to ideas for her winning project which will be funded by Houston’s Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. The project, Labour Pains, deals with Sudhoff’s experiences as a single mother home schooling her children during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“I have two children, seven and nine, who I have home schooled through the year and I’m a single mom so I did a lot of projects exploring what the pandemic looked like for me. I did works like Will You Hug Me Forever, and 60 Pounds of Pressure, which were both about the pandemic but also about my children and what it was like to be at home with two children by myself.
“So Labor Pains also started around that time but was very specific to home schooling. I took pictures of pencil shaving collections as a way to mark time and invisible labor, which I called Merry-Go-Rounds, the sort of same thing day in and day out. I also did them as a way of generating income. As a single mom I had to stop all employment and stay home with the children. Even though we were all kinda going through the same thing, yet at the same time we weren’t all going through the same thing.
“I was also finding ways to explore and embody what was happening to me during the pandemic. I’ve worked with sets of data over the past few years, and so I began collecting information around home schooling, photographing my children, some of the homework they were doing, as they made presentations, etc. When they went back to school in August, I started to map my movement in the house and make recordings showing how the classroom and kitchen became the same space.
“So with this data, part of Labor Pains will be an eight-hour performance of me sharpening pencils as pencil shavings gather around me, and part of it will be using the data collected to make marks on the walls of a gallery.
“I have projects that I’m working on that have nothing to do with my children, and everything to do with me as a woman. Labor Pains is very specific to my children, whereas my exhibition El Recuerdo currently at Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art has a little bit to do with my daughter and my grandmother, but other works like 60 Pounds deal with keeping balance between keeping myself safe for my children as well as keeping them safe.”
“My story begins way before I knew I would become an artist, and is how and why I do both being an artist and a mother.
“I am a 43-year-old Mexican American mother and artist. I was born in Mexico and moved to the United States as a teenager. We lost everything after my parents divorced, and my mother did her best to make a better life for me and my older brother. She became a nurse, provided for us, and gave us every opportunity to become who we wanted to be. During this time of transition in the United States, my mother remarried to a wonderful man from Syria. I became an older sister to my younger siblings, learned about Islam, and learned a bit of Arabic while also learning English. Later, my older brother passed away after completing his training in the Army, right after finishing high school, and a few years later, my stepfather also passed away. It was a really hard first five years in the U.S.
“The trauma of loss, the birth of new life in our family, and the experience to heal takes a lifetime, and I strive for personal and professional growth thanks to the example of my mother. It is what drives the concept of my artwork. I create art that speaks not only about migration but about my experience as a human being, which gets lost in the political rhetoric of immigrants. We are often put in categories about who an immigrant is supposed to be. Some of my family came here with and some without documents, but all of us are people seeking a better life. In my own family, we have followed all kinds of paths like farmers, teachers, engineers, etc., and I became an artist.
“I think back to 30 years ago when my mother was making sacrifices for us to have a roof over our heads and food on the table, to show us the love for education, and have a hard-working ethic. I have the support of my family. I am married to a wonderful man who is a parent who supports my work and takes the same level of responsibility to our daughter that a mother does. We are a team. That is how I am an artist; it is teamwork and surrounding myself with artists and friends who support me.”
“[Being and artist and a mother] is a balancing act, for sure. I am an artist based in Fort Worth, a current Carter Community Artist, and a mother of 3 boys. My boys are all different ages – 12, 7, and 5. As a full-time studio artist, I juggle studio time and teaching art classes locally with all my family’s commitments: helping the boys with homework, taking them to and being a part of their extracurricular activities (piano, sports, drama), and I also volunteer as a leader for their scout group, in addition to volunteering with other community organizations (BBBS, school PTA, my neighborhood association).
“I have to say, in some ways it has made me far more efficient — and it definitely makes me appreciate the quiet moments more. I strive to be an example for my boys by living my own dreams. I do the things I love and I fight hard for the things I believe in so that they will do the same. My children also bring me endless joy and inspiration. My sons are a big part of what makes me paint and try to communicate a love for nature, the earth, and working toward a more just and harmonious world.”
“Learning to navigate being an artist mom (and a new mom at age 44 to boot!) has been my all-consuming existence. Emmie is 8 months old and I’m just now coming out of the pregnancy/newborn baby bubble.
“Pre-baby, I feared that motherhood would steal from my studio practice but that hasn’t been the case at all. Being a mom has profoundly broadened my awareness and my purpose is far more pure. I’m working my tail off in the studio, I just have to work differently. Emmie has inspired a book series (The Lolly Stories); I did a self-directed residency; and my first post-baby exhibition opens at Artspace111 next week (the series is inspired by Emmie and she has been with me during its entire making).”
“Retaining identity. When I first became a mother I made the choice to fight to keep being an artist as part of my identity. I think that is the first step. The guilt that one feels putting yourself first at any point has to be worked through, pushed through, but it is silently there.
“Timing changes. I realized that the timeline that I had for creating had to change. By keeping my thoughts and ideas in sketchbooks I would build up my ideas and collect materials until I could have a creative birthing of my ideas into art in one big push.
“New material. All my work is about me, my life experiences and it always has been. I have always worked in series. Becoming a mother gave me all kinds of new material.
“Modeling self fulfillment. By choosing to retain the part of my identity as artist and creator I am modeling self actualization and fulfillment to my daughters. I don’t think we mothers see this as an act of defiance, but I believe it is. I don’t think anyone ever told me outright that I could not do something once [I had] children, but intrinsic to our society is the idea that once you have children your life must be dedicated to them at all cost. What we are not always told is that they learn what is acceptable through you. They learn whether or not your life as a woman and a mother is worthy of time, education, and creation.
“A supportive partner. Having an equal partner who is supportive of your needs as much as you are of theirs is everything. You both must realize that the other has their own facets of life that do not necessarily include you directly but require dedication in the form of support.”
“I have to acknowledge that the idea of ‘both’ is one of abundance as I know a lot of women who have ‘neither’ an art practice nor children, and it seems gluttonous when faced with the prospect of making room for two wonderful things. So it is with a lot of gratitude and humility that I ‘do both’ emotionally.
“Practically, though, ‘owner’s-manual style,’ I ‘do both” slowly, sometimes with patience, sometimes with intense frustration. The awareness that time is a construct has never felt so real until after having children and recognizing that most things change and nothing lasts forever, but time is precious and every moment matters. In the grand scheme of things, I am confident that the work I have to give the world will find its way out — some of it might be through my art, but some of it might be through what my kids go on to give the world. On a micro level, though, the day-to-day workings of my studio can feel harried and chaotic, and peace seems to come infrequently. But also kids bring about whole new perspectives on things that I’m always stealing, and they are good reality checks.
“My husband is a writer and self-employed. He understands the creative process and is very supportive of making sure I get time in the studio alone. But at the end of the day his job keeps us afloat while my work is less dependable. We can’t afford childcare so most of the time the kids take over my day and I make work in the ‘between’ moments, which makes my process one that comes together in pieces, small moves building upon each other like dollars in the collection plate.
“My studio is a physical representation of my head, a collection of the flotsam and jetsam of our lives, toys, half finished school projects, paper scraps, Legos, rocks, sticks, what have you. My kids walk through in a continuous parade of questions, stories and requests, and my only true time alone is after they are in bed. Then I listen to podcasts or books on tape and paint for as long as I can go, falling into bed around 1 a.m., with enough time to get in a really good dream right before we start all over again at 6:30 a.m. My toddler interrupted me a million times while I was writing this email.”
“I became pregnant around the time my ‘arts practice,’ or whatever you want to call it, was becoming serious. So the artist/mother/writer things have always been in tandem. All three activities bolster each other, though ‘mom’ is the one hat that is stays on. Before this year I was always waking up at four a.m. or going to bed at midnight to squeeze in my career (or feeling guilty for plopping Stevie in front of the TV to meet a deadline).
“I can’t stress enough how much having a supportive partner has enabled me to get to work— Tanner just built a studio for me out back. So… now that I’m not teaching and Stevie is in school, I get to work during daylight hours. I don’t really have any advice for anyone about being an artist/mother, but it certainly makes me feel engaged in so many wonderful and terrifying ways.”
To the artist mothers who responded to this prompt, and to mothers everywhere: Happy Mother’s Day from Glasstire!