You can easily become an overlooked member of the art scene. Usually, it’s enough to get pregnant. It’s no longer possible to rush ahead, produce numerous works, establish contacts and maintain connections. Mothers lose their tempo, life slows down and society starts overlooking them. It no longer counts on their presence. The 2017 debate on the enormous imbalance in the representation of women in exhibitions in the Czech Republic is proof of that. Within the artistic community, success is often hard-earned, based on exhausting activity and constant visibility. For a long time, this wasn’t a topic and mothers in the art world lacked a strong voice that would reach today’s decibels. Although there was a four-member group known as Mothers and Fathers (Matky a otcové) back in the 2000s, who created group shows centred around the theme of parenthood, there was no ambition to change the system of care. Brno-based artist Kateřina Olivová also had a talk show on the radio, Milk and Honey, where the guests were all actively working mothers. In 2017, at tranzit.cz, curator Tereza Stejskalová began formulating the Codex of the Feminist Institution. Things slowly went into motion.
Only with the Mothers Artlovers group, established at the end of 2016 by artists-mothers Darina Alster in Prague and Kateřina Olivová in Brno, did this voice multiply within the artistic community to the point where it’s starting to sound like a trombone. Originally a support group for mothers active in the arts facing isolation and a loss of both specialist dialogue and a motivation to work, Mothers Artlovers gradually turned into an activist group. It has around two hundred members with fifteen people at its core. Mothers from the art community (and later couples) began by offering each other mutual support – meeting, discussing, presenting their projects, sharing experiences and discovering the borders of prejudice, taboos and their own possibilities.
The group gradually entered the public spheres through workshops and lectures on finding sustainable ways of life; with questions as to the possibilities of living within the artistic community whilst also being a parent. They clarified that the group’s output would not consist of portrayals of motherhood, but would instead aim to create environments with new principles. At the Prague Biennale Project: Magic Carpets 2019, for example, the group focused on children’s corners in galleries, posing an unusual question: why are they more reminiscent of paid playrooms than a creative space to which we apply artistic standards? They created an environment for discussions where one could meet the group’s members, leaving behind “sediments of time spent together”.
Now, after three years, the Mothers Artlovers group will present their own Manifesto at the Fotograf Festival this autumn. The members, as parents, will meet society halfway, communicating their needs and demands. They’ll be targeting their own partners, communities, institutions, and politicians. In relation to the Manifesto, the group will also send institutions a questionnaire with inspirational questions aiming to discover the possibilities this institution offers parents-visitors, what facilities they offer artists with small children while they prepare exhibitions or during residencies, and how they approach childcare with their own employees. The dialogue, hopefully, will have begun, and the games will begin…
Our society, carefully constructed on fame and success, economic growth, and consumerism, is falling apart like a house of cards. We chased upwards until we forgot (not only) those who establish our foundations and de facto produce society. An inclusion of mothers – and, more generally, parents – into society could begin in one of the potentially freest, though also unsustainably under-financed fields. In the world of art. Why have we never asked them about their needs?
Martina Raclavská is an art writer (but not a mother).