Motherhood exhibition opens with over 100 artworks created by artists who were told being a mother isn’t an ‘appropriate subject for art’

Expressing motherhood through art can be very powerful

Woman eating on a bed while daughter irons in the background
(Image credit: Anna Grevenitis)

After being discouraged from expressing themselves as parents through their art, a group of artists and mothers have opened an exhibition showing how blending art and motherhood can be beautiful.

As soon as she has a baby a woman's life is altered immeasurably, and usually for the wrong reasons. Working mothers earn considerably less than working fathers, and face a number of challenges when it comes to requesting flexible working. Mothers are also being legally gagged from talking about workplace discrimination

Art critic Hettie Judah even found artists who are also mothers, are discouraged from expressing motherhood through their work, and decided this needed to change. The result is the exhibition Acts of Creation: On Art and Motherhood, featuring over 100 pieces of art created by mothers. The exhibition will be at the Midlands Arts Centre from June 22 until 29 September as part of a UK tour.

It will showcase works by artists including Dame Tracey Emin and the late Dame Paula Rego, alongside others from around the world and prominent Birmingham artists. Hettie Judah arrived at the idea for the exhibition after studying the impact of motherhood on artist careers, and how this is reflected in the nature of the art shown in some of the biggest galleries and museums.

Woman in the bath with a cow looking at her

(Image credit: Janine Antoni)

Speaking at the opening of the show, Judah said "I have many, many artists that have been strongly dissuaded from making or attempting to exhibit work on the theme of motherhood. They were given this very strong message right from the time they were at art school, that if they were going to be a serious artist, they shouldn't become a mother."

She adds that artists were told "Motherhood was not an appropriate subject for art, that, motherhood was certainly not the subject for great art, the kind of art that gets shown in the serious museums, that there was no commercial capacity in art about motherhood." 

"Artists were given this very strong message right from the time they were at art school, that if they were going to be a serious artist, they shouldn't become a mother."

Hettie Judah

Through her research, Judah found people still want to make art about motherhood - if you're an artist and a mother, it's a fundamental part of yourself that can be expressed through your work. She also found a number of mothers were forced to take time away from their careers after giving birth, to focus on their children or earn wages another way. These people report "No cultural paradigm of the artist mother."

Judah adds "The mother didn't really exist as a figure in society. You couldn't point to somebody and say ‘yes, that's who I am. That's what I do.’ And so, artist mothers were quite often being dismissed as hobbyists, as unserious, as people who had taken a break, who didn't have art as their strong priority."

She continues "So, the other thing that I wanted to do in this show - besides showing that art about motherhood is incredibly important and very exciting, and that there is much great work about motherhood - was to have a gallery of self-portraits by artists in which they identify themselves as mothers." 

For more on motherhood, we have tips on how to embrace and survive being a mum, while six myths of motherhood should be ignored if you're going to enjoy the process. Matrescence is the name given to the process of adjusting to motherhood, but not enough people know about it.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.