The MAMA Project is a multi-media installation by Emily van Lidth de Jeude that brings together the voices of women from various walks of life, and beckons us to remember, reflect and honour the stories of the mothers in our own lives. Exhibiting at the Deer Lake Gallery until June 3, this exhibit is a powerful way to make Mother’s Day more meaningful. Emily van Lidth de Jeude is a multimedia visual and literary artist based on Bowen Island, BC, and the creator of the MAMA Project. I had the opportunity to ask her about the installation, modern motherhood, and the stories that connect us all.
Joy: What inspired the MAMA Project?
Emily: Mostly, probably, my own journey through motherhood. My kids were five and eight when I began it in 2009. But just prior to that time I ran a program called Mothers Place, where I welcomed new mothers to a sharing group and to connect them with resources. In that time, there were so many stories shared that I thought it would be good to create a stage for those stories. Somehow that translated into what became the MAMA Project.
J: I’ve always understood that artists are intentional with their form and media. Tell me about your choice for this exhibition.
E: Used bed sheets! I always prefer working with media that has a history, and these bed sheets have stains, tears, and some are worn threadbare. If you think about it, sheets are around us for most of our big life events, from the moment we’re conceived, through birth, dreams, relationships, mothering, and even in death. What a great substrate to paint these portraits on! Some of the sheets were donated by mothers involved with the project, but some of them were mine, some from other donors, and some from a hospital.
J: You interviewed women of different generations, backgrounds, and life experiences. What did you find most interesting while interacting with these stories?
E: I was surprised at how age had very little to do with the sorts of stories that came up in the interviews. Also, it was interesting and beautiful how so many of the mothers – through different routes – ended up at a similar conclusion: as mothers, they were trying to improve on their own experience of being mothered; trying to evolve the process of mothering over the generations. I love how deeply intentional that is.
J: After this journey of interviewing and creating visual representations of modern mothers, what would you say the modern mother looks like?
E: What an interesting question! I think, actually – that what stood out to me most is how much there was in common between the oldest and the youngest mothers I interviewed. One of the mothers, in her nineties, still looked after her eldest sons, and worried that she hadn’t been attentive or loving enough. Some of the youngest mothers were conscientious of the same thing. I think that although times change, and some of the day-to-day realities of mothering have changed hugely in the past hundred years, the deep need to connect, to protect, and to support our children is still the same. And that’s the root of mothering.
J: This project has travelled to various locations along the West Coast. I feel like it created a place of dialogue and reflection on motherhood, how have the responses been so far for your exhibition?
E: Well, there are always a few people who just think it’s strange to paint on used bed sheets, but there seem to be far more who feel very moved by seeing the portraits and listening to the candid words of the mothers. I think that motherhood isn’t something we often give such a public space to consider – especially not so candidly. So, for many people it’s a new thing to take time to really engage with all these stories. It gives a space to connect with our own experiences of mothering and being mothered. And I’m discovering that for men it can be quite powerful, as they gain new insight into the experiences of their own mothers, and other parents in their lives.
J: One last question, what do you hope the audience will take away from this exhibition?
E: I hope people come to consider the humanity of their own mothers, their own caregivers and, where appropriate, their own spouses and children. The opportunity to connect with and to really know each other is such a gift. I hope we can all find more space for it in our lives.
Visit the MAMA Project:
Now open at Deer Lake Art Gallery, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 12 – 4pm until June 3, 2017.
Admission and parking are free.
For more information, please visit burnabyartscouncil.org/event/mama-project/