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Tuesday 16 July 2019
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Mother or artist – should women choose?

Culture Matters

“I had to rethink how I was going to move forward...At the time I was still with Square One, I performed with them until I was about five months pregnant. I had to think about when I come back out...am I still going to be in the band?”

– Alison Hinds, soca artist

“...the topic of motherhood does not make it into serious art journalism. It doesn’t make it into serious art criticism or art history...”

– Extract from documentary on women artists and mothers

IS THERE a natural tension between being an artist and a mother? Is it that women can be one or the other, but not both? Before the howl of feminist indignation gets louder, rest assured that I do not subscribe to either of those views.

Growing up, I remember that the women around me wrote, performed on stage, worked full time and still raised their children. However, I do think it would be naive to pretend that becoming a parent does not impact how we function as creative beings.

In many ways, the creative process is a solitary one, requiring introspection and sometimes, quite frankly, separating oneself from the world. Parenting is the exact opposite of this, a sensory overload of giving affection and very often denial of self.

A recent documentary by Trumbull-LaValle and Sokolowski examined how five women artists in the US, from different artistic and ethnic backgrounds, went about negotiating their artistic space as mothers.

The producers said they wanted to explore more fully “the gendered values and expectations placed on mothers, artist mothers, the misogyny women who mothers confront, and the unique inequities women face in creative fields.”

Almost with one voice, the women who were interviewed felt that motherhood or being a parent should not define them as artists. For instance, assuming that their art would become less edgy after motherhood, that they would have to put their creativity on hold or that they would have to give up their craft altogether.

Unfortunately, gender disparities and negative attitudes towards women and mothers in the art world continue to exist. In 2018, a survey of almost two million art auction sales found that “paintings by women fetched less money than paintings by men.” Not surprisingly, research is also pointing to the fact that works by female artists of colour are even at a greater disadvantage.

In TT, if we examine the music industry, literature, film, Carnival arts, theatre or other fields, what would we find? Indeed, how would we even assess gender equality and perceptions of female artists – by looking at income, media exposure, attitudes?

It is possible to argue that Caribbean perceptions of female artists are different to those in western societies. Historically, we are familiar with female-headed households and traditions of female leadership across belief systems (eg Hindu, Ifa/Orisa, Spiritual Baptist). Civil rights and black power movements also gave voice to matters of feminism, human rights and gender equality in various spheres.

In the artistic world, increased gender sensitivity helped transform the way women and female artists were represented in the media. On the surface, motherhood did not seem to impact negatively on the ability of the artist to earn or stay relevant.

Perhaps, but when it comes to the high-stakes entertainment world of soca as an example, does being a mother impact a woman’s ability to attract jobs or even fans? When it comes to marketability and earning power, do men still dominate? Female soca artists seem to agree.

Alison Hinds admits that when an artist’s body changes after motherhood there is “...a double standard with what our male counterparts can get away with and not be penalised for it as opposed to the females...and that goes to behaviour, to image, everything across the board. Women are expected to always look a certain way. Any slight infraction people will quickly bring her down...”

Faye-Ann Lyons, who won Soca Monarch in 2009 while pregnant, was fortunate that she never had to choose. “I think the line between ‘We like this girl’ and ‘We don’t like this girl’ has been so blurred that we (women) tend to fight more for likes than we tend to fight for respect.”

So, is there a natural tension between being an artist and a mother? The answer is that women are increasingly resisting stereotypes, but also need to be very clear about how they determine their careers.

A blessed Mother’s Day to our female artists and mothers everywhere.

Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN

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