The Photographers’ Gallery is presenting Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity, an exhibition exploring representations of motherhood through the works of eight contemporary artists. The exhibition will aim to challenge long-held stereotypes and sentimental views of motherhood by addressing issues such as gender roles, domesticity, the body and the identity of individuals within the family unit. The work of the eight artists tends to be autobiographical in focus and sits within the documentary genre. Large in both scale and scope, many of the projects span over several years with some still ongoing. Home Truths is curated by Susan Bright.
The eight artists and projects taking part in the exhibition are:
Janine Antoni (b. 1964, Bahamas) has, for many years, explored the role of mothering through her relationship with her own mother and subsequently her daughter. In Inhabit (2009) we see Antoni suspended in mid-air wearing a dress designed as a house. The photograph is part of a performance piece in which, over the course of five hours, a spider slowly begins to weave its web inside the rooms of the house. The spider stands for Antoni’s daughter while she is the supporting structure it needs for its web.Inhabit, and other images in the series, reflect on the complex role of the mother requiring her to be flexible yet reassuringly constant, a dominating presence but one that is able to provide for the space needed for her child to grow.
In her series the Annunciation Elina Brotherus (b. 1972, Finland) records herself through years of failed IVF treatments. Full of art historical references, Brotherus’ images stand in sharp contrast to the traditional scenes and symbolism of Annunciation paintings. While the Virgin Mary receives the news that she is to give birth to the son of God, Brotherus pictures herself month after month in-front of a succession of negative pregnancy tests. Feelings of elation and abundance are replaced with those of sorrow and loss. Brotherus’ photographs question the term ‘mother’, suggesting that it can stem from intention rather than being bound to biology or the physical act of having a child.
In Elinor Carucci’s (b. 1971, Israel) series Mother (2004-2013) we see the artist, known for her intimate portraits of her family, extend her practice by working with her children. Through her photographs Carucci expresses her fears of motherhood – that it would result in the loss of her creativity and sense of identity. What she discovered however, were new layers of depth and intensity within herself and her work. Carucci confronts viewers with candid depictions of motherhood – from her changing body to moments of annoyance, frustration and exhaustion but also those of great joy and tenderness.
Ana Casas Broda’s (b. 1965, Spain) desire to have children was intense. She spent five years in fertility treatments before she was able to conceive her first son. With the birth of her second son she began exploring motherhood through photography and writing. For Casas Broda having children triggered memories and fears from her own childhood which exacerbated her post-partum depression. Using photography as a form of therapy, she was able to work through these dark periods and come to terms with her past. A selection of twenty-five images from this project, titled Kinderwunsch (2006 – 2013), is to go on display. Focusing on Casas Broda’s games with her sons, the photographs depict a series of complex interactions between the childrens’ developing identities and her own profound transformations.
Fred Hüning’s (b. 1966 Germany) work is comprised of a diaristic trilogy of books, Einer (2010), Zwei(2011) and Drei (2011). Starting in 2005, the books document, in a non-linear way, Hüning and his wife’s journey of love and loss as reflected in everyday moments alongside extraordinary and tragic family events. Einer tells the story of the birth and death of their first child and the struggle which followed as they try and cope with their loss. Zwei shows the couple’s healing process as they attempt to rebuild their relationship and Hüning’s wife discovers she is pregnant again. Drei is a celebration of life and love as the family is made whole again by the arrival of their second son.
Leigh Ledare’s (b. 1976, USA) project Pretend You’re Actually Alive (2002 -2008) is largely comprised of explicit photographs of his mother, Tina Peterson, interspersed with ephemera. The project, which was originally conceived as a book, will be presented as a series of seventeen images. Once a ballerina and model, Peterson later worked in amateur pornography. Her sexually aggressive behavior, combined with her fragile psyche, was the catalyst for collaboration between her and Ledare. The work results in a safe environment in which they are able to explore slippages of Peterson’s identity as well as confound and question conventional boundaries, ethical lines and taboos associated with mother/son relationships. It is a complex investigation into authorship, subjectivity, performance and portraiture which acutely undermines stereotypical attitudes towards the mother figure.
Katie Murray’s (b.1974, USA) video performance Gazelle showcases the artist as she tests her limits of endurance during a workout session. Following the birth of her second child Murray attempted to lose weight by using the Gazelle – Total Body Workout Exercise Machine. Frustrated by her family’s constant interruptions she began exercising with her two children strapped to her back and front. Serving as a running commentary is the voice of Tony Little, “America’s Personal Trainer”, blaring out sexist motivational clichés. The video is intercepted with nature footage of a mother gazelle suckling her young and escaping an attack by a pair of young cheetah cubs. Murray’s piece is a metaphor for her failed attempts at balancing the demands of a wife, mother and artist all at the same time.
Hanna Putz’s (b. 1987, Austria) photographs raise questions about today’s surfeit of images and the need to perform for the camera in an age of social networking and permanent surveillance. By photographing young mothers and their babies she aims to create a feeling of intimacy and closeness, but without exposing anyone. The mother, solely focused on her child, is oblivious to the camera’s presence and unconcerned about ‘posing’ for it. Composition and colour are of great importance to Putz, adding a layer of anonymity to her subjects by transforming them into sculptural forms.
Susan Bright said: The work in this exhibition is at times subtle, at times bold. Highly subjective, it can also be contradictory. It displays a sense of seriousness and intense reflection, often with a haunting quality. It has the ability to move, but also to question and disrupt assumptions without being judgmental. Like photography itself, the expectations and demands of motherhood are in flux; both subject and medium grapple for new meaning in a changing world. My hope is that the work featured here will open up debates about the continued representation and place of the mother figure, while raising questions about the identity and display of photography at this pivotal moment in which we find ourselves – at a crossroads between the singular photographic object and the sprawling nature of the networked image.
Home Truths is a collaboration with the Foundling Museum, London and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. The exhibition is showing across the two London institutions, with artists at the Gallery addressing issues of motherhood and identity and those at the Foundling Museum considering motherhood and loss. Both exhibitions are curated by Susan Bright. Artists showing work at the Museum are Ann Fessler (b. 1950, USA), Tierney Gearon (b. 1963, USA), Miyako Ishiuchi (b. 1947, Japan) and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (b. 1964, Britain).
Following its display at The Photographers’ Gallery Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity will tour to the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (MoCP) where it will be exhibited from 25 April – 13 July 2014. The exhibition will be accompanied by a major publication published by The Photographers’ Gallery, Art / Books, The Foundling Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.
Hanna Putz Untitled, (LL1), 2012 42 cm x 60 cm © Hanna Putz
Courtesy of the artist