By Maria Collier Mendonça
“Welcome to Motherland! You may have recently washed up on its shores, or have been living here for a while and already acclimated, the blur of the early years of motherhood behind you. Or maybe you don’t live here, but you have a relationship to this place as a partner, child, or friend”. Mindy Stricke, ‘Greetings from Motherland’.
Originally from New York and settled in Toronto (Ontario, Canada), Mindy Stricke is a photographer and multi-disciplinary installation artist, whose work challenges boundaries between artists and non-artists; artists and audience; process and product. Her work has been exhibited throughout North America and also in international publications such as the New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, among others. I had the opportunity to listen to Mindy’s presentation “Welcome to Motherland: Artists Collaborating with Mothers to Create New Representations of Motherhood” at the MIRCI Mega Motherhood Conference on Academic Motherhood, Mothers & Work, Communicating Motherhood, in Toronto, on June 2013. I was so touched by her presentation that I asked to interview Mindy in person on the following month.
Her main project, “Greetings From Motherland”, is a series of collaborative art projects, first launched by Mindy in 2009. It has been funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and supported by the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council. Along this initiative, Mindy has worked with both artists and non-artists who are also mothers in Toronto, Canada and in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work process consists of a deep dive into mothering and motherhood. During workshops with groups of mothers, free childcare is provided while Mindy and her colleagues invite participants to express their maternal subjectivities in very creative and original ways. Women are stimulated to question, investigate, share and play using their mothering experiences as the raw material, which inspires them to create new representations of motherhood through a collaborative process.
Through the exploration of several languages beyond the verbal, participants experience photography, writing, storytelling, music, sewing and other codes to produce artistic pieces and express their maternal subjectivities. Soon after, these pieces are exhibited and the audience can interact with some of them. As Mindy explained during our interview, ‘Greetings from Motherland’ was created six months after her daughter was born. As she emerged from post-partum haze, she realized that she was not the only one who felt so disoriented. Mindy said:
“As a new mother and an artist, I felt troubled by the disconnection between some of the sentimental representations of motherhood and the reality, as well as the isolation and related pressure to be the mythical “perfect mother”, whatever that means.“Greetings from Motherland” is a collective artistic exploration to remedy that. Through this series of multi-disciplinary collaborative art projects, I bring women together to question, investigate, share, and play using our real lives as mothers as the raw material, and to hopefully create some honest representations of motherhood in the process.”
For Mindy, the most surprising of this collaborative working process is the creativity of the participant mothers.
In her words:
“All of them bring things to the project that I would never dream of. So my job is to create the overall idea, and then they bring their own individual experiences and visions to each project and they always surprise me! I will have a certain vision or idea and I will try the idea and then I think it will go in one direction, then, when I bring it to the group, will make incredible images and take them into interesting different directions. For example, capture that feeling of landing in this place that I call Motherland that feels very overwhelming when you first become a new mother. I had this idea to create images of miniature figures, juxtaposed with baby objects from our world. I was playing with them at home, but then, I brought the activity into the workshop and people came up with ideas that I never would have thought of. One woman took five figures and put them on a stroller wheel. I had been thinking about motherhood as an individual experience of this overwhelming feeling, but this woman did something completely different right? In my interpretation, that image shows the ways women are trapped against each other and going around the stroller wheel… It is just a beautiful image, it is really cool and it is funny. A lot of people brought humour [to the project]. [Now,] I want to figure out where are the laughs in our experiences with motherhood.”
From 28 September to 6 October 2013 at the Arcadia Gallery in Toronto, Mindy and a group of mothers from the Harbourfront Community Centre in Toronto will be presenting ‘Landing Gear’, another chapter in the history of ‘Greetings from Motherland’. ‘Landing Gear’ is an interactive multimedia installation about early motherhood told through the clothes we wear. Through a combination of documentary audio, photographs, text and collage centred around an antique wardrobe trunk, viewers will be invited to explore the contributing mothers’ stories and share their own. More information about the show is available at the Greetings From Motherland website: http://www.greetingsfrommotherland.com/events/. I especially recommend looking at the photo installation named You Are Not Where You Were, as well as the Motherland postcard rack.It is out of this multidirectional spectrum that ‘Greetings from Motherland’ shows itself to us. Participants embark on an artistic journey that has great impact on both those taking part, and those viewing the results.
In my opinion, one of the greatest achievements of the project is challenging mothers who are not artists to discover and reveal their self-identities and subjectivities through art. It opens a path to their self-expression by using other languages and codes, beyond the verbal and the traditional. It is not like a coin, which has only two plain sides. It explores a deeper subjectivity that challenges a monolithic way of viewing motherhood.
Maria Collier de Mendonça is a Ph.D. candidate at the Communications and Semiotics Graduate Program at PUC-SP (The Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil). Her dissertation is entitled: ‘Motherhood in Advertising: a Qualitative and Semiotic Analysis in Brazil and Canada.’ From January to July 2013, Maria conducted part of her doctoral research in Canada, as a CAPES Foundation Grantee, under the supervision of Dr. Andrea O’Reilly at York University, in Toronto, ON.