On display through the end of December at Bunnell Street Arts Center is “Mother,” featuring work by seven statewide artists-mothers, and the result of nearly two years of connection.
“You don’t have to look too far to find empathy about mom hood when you are speaking to moms,”said Brianna Allen, one of the artists. “We came together with a desire to share and contribute in authentic ways, to discuss how motherhood has influenced our art and changed us as people and artists.”
Included in the exhibit are 41 pieces — paintings, textiles, installation work, soft sculptures, moving image, scanography, three-dimensional work, and a book.
Participating artists are Carla Klinker Cope, Brianna Allen, and Amy Komar from Homer, Amy Meissner from Anchorage, Myesha Callahan Freet from Chugiak, Somer Hahm from Fairbanks, and Lily Wooshkindein Da.Aat Hope from Juneau.
After meeting weekly on Zoom for six months, the idea for “Mother” was birthed. When their exhibit application to show at Bunnell was granted in October 2021, they began creating work for the exhibit and shifted to meeting every other week and then monthly, allowing time to be in their studios and with their families.
A visual artist with a bachelor of fine arts, Cope is a mother of two. Her work draws from the absurd, contradictory and profound experiences of being a neurodivergent woman/artist/mother. In this exhibit, she shows wishbone shaped sculptures, including She Gets It From Her Mother, an oversize pair of wishbones made from her old jeans, patch worked and pieced together.
“The wish bone legs are like your mom’s legs, when you were clinging onto her legs, looking for comfort,” she said. “The pieces I have in here are really about materials and doing things that are accessible to me while being both a mom and an artist at a same time. It’s also something about materials that I’m pulling from our daily life that feels important.”
Cope shared that connecting with the group gave her permission to create.
“In a way, it’s an act of defiance, at least for me, to be making art and mothering,” she said. “There’s always a tension between this desire and need to make and to be who I am unapologetically, while also managing and caring for my kids. With this group, I am in conversation, buoyed and held to task.”
Brianna Allen is a multidisciplinary artist with a bachelor of fine art in Painting and Entrepreneurial Studies. A mother of two, she works within the themes of motherhood through community storytelling. Her piece Fragility Misunderstood is a series of six paintings inspired by her daughter’s interaction with an egg.
“I heard that children innately know to be careful with an egg,” Allen said. “I watched her first interaction of coddling it and how it changed to grasping it and then pressing into it, and how she was exploring her own boundaries. I had this sudden awareness that we make a lot of assumptions about how fragile we are.”
Also debuting in this exhibit is Allen’s book, The MOMologue Collective, an anthology of 100 anonymous stories by self-identifying mothers, which she began creating four years ago.
Allen values the group’s support and encouragement.
“Everyone was willing to be vulnerable and our conversations helped me show up for my art practice in a regimented way,” she said.
Amy Komar is a visual artist with a bachelor of arts in Studio Art and a mother of two. She paints on clay board and found objects.
“Clay boards are a place for me to process emotions and experiences that are often difficult to put into words,” she said. “Post partum depression, feelings of isolation, loss of identity, a desire for community, mom rage — these are tough to talk about, but that many of us have in common.”
With her painted found objects, she explores what it feels like to be a mother in the 21st century. With Thoughts and Prayers, a painted toy gun, she responds to the issue of school shootings.
“I want to open an opportunity for other mothers to see that they are not alone and to access their own feelings and emotions,” she said. “Can we talk about harder things and normalize these difficult conversations?”
She welcomed the realization that each of them in the group experience a myriad of feelings and emotions within the context of their own mothering.
“It’s a constant conversation – what it’s like having these needs as an artist and the needs that motherhood asks of us,” she said.
Amy Meissner is a mother of two and an artist with a master of arts in Critical Craft Studies, a master of fine arts in Creative Writing, and undergraduate degrees in Art and Textiles. Her work with found objects and abandoned textiles references the physical and emotional labor of women.
Survival Blanket, a bright crib size blanket, is made from an abandoned crocheted coverlet.
“I worked for three months darning in all of the openings of the doily’s, filling all of the holes and not know what I was doing or why, just existing in the not knowing,”
In the end, the coverlets shrunk and became thick and toughened. Meissner mounted the blanket onto orange nylon, added reflective tape to the border and stitched an emergency trauma blanket to the back.
“This is in a state of usefulness now, different than how it began,” she said. “To repair garments is about care giving, accompanying the vulnerable object and how it in turn accompanies the repairer, interconnected. I try to impart that to the conversations we have that are often very intimate, when things are being repaired by hand.”
A mother of one and visual artist with a bachelor of fine arts, Myesha Callahan Freet draws inspiration from an ongoing exploration into the evolution of self by examining her role as a mother and wife. In addition to her moving image piece, she is exhibiting large prints, documenting items she gathered from others in the group. Among the items depicted in Load are a teddy bear, a pacifier, and a baby blanket.
“I believe there’s a power in letting go, that we can feel freer in asking why am I keeping this,” she said. “Most items are tucked away in boxes and so this speaks to the dream and memories we have with these items that will eventually fade away.”
The group has validated Freet’s own thoughts and feelings.
“I realize that there is a consistent conversation between other mother artists on mothering and art making and these are beautiful, organic moments that are happening with overlapping conversations,” she said.
Somer Hahm is a mother of two, a visual artist, creative place maker, adjunct professor of drawing at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and exhibit technician for the Fairbanks Arts Association and Bear Gallery. In “Mother,” she shares acrylic on clay board paintings and quilts.
Her painting, Fading in the Sun is an abstract representation of quilts blowing in the wind.
“What is more heartwarming, more motherly, than a handmade quilt,” she said. “Quilts are imbued with history and primarily a woman’s work, so they’re where I have been drawing inspiration from for the last several years. Even if someone is not an art appreciator, they can understand shapes and colors and almost everybody knows a quilter or has had a quilt passed down in their family.”
Hahm had been actively seeking a community of mother artists when she joined the group.
“We offer support to each other and have a safe space to talk about what it’s like to try to carve out time to create art and be a caregiver at the same time,” she said.
Lily Wooshkindein Da.Aat Hope is a distinguished artist and community leader. Her finger-twined, adapted Formline, ceremonial Chilkat Dancing Robes document inheritance, history, lineages of weavers, world crisis, and political issues, and take years to complete. She is a mother of five.
“I didn’t know I was going to be a weaver or teacher of Indigenous arts,” she said. “My mother taught me her knowledge for creating ceremonial robes and when she died young, I was left holding this knowledge. Continuing this art work and expanding the weaving community in Alaska and beyond is my critical work right now.”
Little Watchman is a child size mannequin wearing a traditional head dress and a wool jacket with an iconic Chilkat face woven on the back, epaulets on the shoulders, adorned in .22 magnum bullet shells, and with a whistle on his chest.
“As mothers and creators, we hope that our children will carry on the knowledge and life practices that we leave in their care, and often times, we think about daughters doing this work,” she said. “This one is male. He holds the knowledge and intent to protect this knowledge and carry it forward.”
For Hope, the group provided connection.
“We’re not just stronger together, we’re better together when we ask for support, reach out, and strengthen our human connections,” she said. “That’s what makes all of it work – meaningful work, meaningful relationships.”
The women are now looking forward.
“This feels like a beginning and a celebration and a joy of an arrival,” Cope said. “We’ve created this model where we are the people for whom this project has been necessary and we’re going to continue that model through. We are all planning to keep showing up and we’re envisioning opening up the space for the next need, and for others.”
“Mother” will remain in the gallery through December. In September 2023, the artists-mothers will exhibit at the Bear Gallery in Fairbanks.
On Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m., Bunnell will host “MOMologues”, a live community performance directed by Jennifer Norton and Mercedes Harness and created by Brianna Allen. The program is 21+, and limited to one night only. Tickets are $50 and benefit Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic are available at kbfpc.org.