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.


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