Posts from May 2024

mother & child

May 7, 2024

My earliest images of mother and child are the Orthodox Christian icons that I grew up around. I was drawn in by the colours –– vermillion, indigo and lapis lazuli –– and the shimmering of gold leaf. Once I was in high school, I studied art history and my visual references expanded to include Mary Cassat’s tender portraits, Henry Moore’s curvaceous sculptures and the hand carved wood figures of the Yoruba people. The darker side of motherhood –– The anguish, the heartache, the loss –– came in much later by way of Louise Bourgeois’ red gouache drawings and the harrowing self portraits of Frida Kahlo. We look to art to feel connection, to find meaning, to feel less alone in the world. Two artists whose exploration of motherhood resonates with me today are Lisa Sorgini and Madeline Donahue. Although I’m beyond the stage where my babies are glued to my body like mussels on wet rock, I still have a visceral response to Sorgini’s closeups of tiny hands gripping hold of their mother’s fleshy bellies, and multiple children hanging off multiple limbs. Cesarean scars. Swollen nipples. Baby’s bottom or woman’s breast? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Her breathtaking images are all skin and sweat and shadows. Madeline Donahue captures a similar tenderness and intensity in her brightly coloured depictions of everyday life. One image shows a mother painting the window sill while one child crawls at her feet and the other uses the hem of her dress as a swing. It’s distance from that phase of motherhood that allows me such a full and free and visceral connection to it.

a city in a park

May 3, 2024

I realized this morning as I wandered through Mount Pleasant Cemetery how much I’ve come to appreciate cemeteries. As a child I used to hold my breath whenever a cemetery was in sight. The very idea that some wayward spirit might follow me home was reason enough to steer clear of them for good. Superstitious thinking can wreak havoc on a child’s imagination. When my Nanna died, a woman I adored, my Dad suggested I stayed in the car during the burial service. I remember chatting to the limo driver and thinking that whatever was happening at the bottom of the hill was not for children. Cemeteries were not for children. My own kids have shown me that children don’t need as much protecting as we think they do. At their great-grandmother’s wake all three of my kids commented on how lovely her outfit was. They greeted Nonnina in her casket much like they would have greeted her in her kitchen. Bright green lawns, which her cemetery has acres of are a lovely playing ground for children. Death is part of life and life is part of death. Over the years I’ve come to see cemeteries as a place where death and life intersect. Cemeteries can and should be community destinations, much like they were before we had art galleries, parks and concert halls to congregate in. When we visited my stepfather recently at the beautiful Brompton Cemetery in London, I was happy to see how vibrant and alive the cemetery is. There’s even a cafe where people commune for English breakfasts or a jolt of coffee while visiting a loved one or cycling to work. My brother meets clients at the cafe from time to time because the cemetery is so centrally located. Lime trees, wildflowers, foxes, birds and bats all live there. Dogs bark. Humans weep. Bicycle bells tinkle. There is so much life in Ukulu‘s cemetery. On my walk this morning, I came across dozens of flat headstones blanketed in cherry blossom petals and dappled light. It was as if nature herself was celebrating the lives beneath the soil.

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