The Photographers Gallery: Home Truths: Motherhood, photography and identity

This show aimed to show motherhood in a challenging way addressing the real emotions and struggles faced by women within the domestic sphere. The show’s curators assert a desire to challenge the idealised imagery of motherhood presented by imagery found within a culture obsessed by celebrity and perfection.

The first set of self portraits by Elinor Carruci borrow heavily from images of the Madonna and child, one reminded me of Rosetti’s annunciation with the young and vulnerable looking woman presented prepped for birth in hospital gowns wearing an expression of fear mingled with saintly resignation. In my view Caruci’s images seemlessley combined classical poses with the reality of modern birth. Another set of work I fund particulary striking was Elina Brotherus’ visual diary of an IVF cycle. I was particularly struck by one image which from a distance appeared to be a beautifull abstract compositin but on closer inspection revealed itself to be blood in a toilet bown this simple image placed alongside the artists emotive self portraits gave the viewer a sense of the artist’s loss and sadness.  The show was in the most part focused on babies and birth which was a weakness in terms of exploring the reality of motherhood, only two artists explored an experience of parenting that went beyond the early years. Janine Antoni’s performative photographs used a variety of metaphorical imagery to show some of the frustrations arising from motherhood. Her main imaged showed the artist in a playroom bound in a spiders web of suspension ropes and trapped inside a child’s dolls house. I appreciated the way this artist had subverted the idea of the happy mother and domestic goddess pedaled by mainstream society, I also liked the fairytale feel of the imagery which she had created by playing with scale and introducing an uncanny visual narrative. However I felt that the use of metaphores was overdone. The artist uses two metaphores the idea of being trapped in a spiders web and trapped in a toy house which on their own would have been enough to convey the entrapment of childcare. The other artist who looked at a less idealised motherhood presented a mini exhibition about the life of his own mother who had been involved in the sex industry. These works formed uncomfortable viewing. As a viewer I felt complicit in the womans exploitation, the sense of discomfort was further induced by the juxtaposition of hardcore porn with imagery of the woman as an innocent young dancer and as a dying elderly lady. This series of works through up issues of consent and intention, I found myself questioning the intentions of the artist who had chosen to present his mother in this way and wondering if it was how she would have chosen to be remembered. Interestingly this is the work that has most stayed with me possibly because it was hard to look at these images without them envoking some kind of emotion, I also found that they awakened a curiosity about this woman’s life and I felt myself unwillingly slipping into the role of voyeur.

Overall I think the show did provide a contrast with cultures idealised motherhood, and presented some challenging viewing however it would have been interesting to see this extended further.

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