At some time or other, most of us have felt our independence being infringed upon. Whether this came in the midst of an all-consuming relationship, after a stretch of long shifts at a thankless job, or maybe a family reunion that goes on a little too long. It comes as no surprise then that Fight for Self, the upcoming public discussion of how the intersection of artist and mother* often infringes on one’s selfhood, has attracted such broad interest.
Artist Heidi Kenyon and curator/arts writer Polly Dance conceived of the FRANfest event after Heidi noticed her work opportunities lagging. It was after the birth of her daughter that Heidi saw the sharp decline, say says “[b]efore I had my daughter I felt like I had a really busy thriving practice to the point where I was having to say no to projects. Then things shifted over the last couple of years. Some of it’s been I’ve had to say no to things as well, but then when I have been ready to be involved the opportunities just weren’t there… [I was] just feeling a bit like I’d fallen off the face of the earth”. Heidi and Polly collaborated in an exhibition shortly after the birth of their daughters, and have sustained a friendship since. They both felt strongly that they wanted the discussion about the effect of motherhood on art practice to be a focal point in the contemporary art community, rather than relegated to a “mother’s group”. Heidi is also quick to mention that Franfest played a part in the event coming together, she says “[o]f course it’s been something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with and I have been on their email list for a while and I saw this and thought ‘this would be really great opportunity to connect with it as a feminist issue’”.
What’s great about FRANfest, Polly says, is its historic links. Like so many of the shows and events in the festival Fight for Self is connected to the original, 1977, Women’s Show which Franfest commemorates. “It sort of came, initially, from personal discussions but then we realised that the experimental art foundation had their ‘Lovely Motherhood’ show and that links very much conceptually to what we’re discussing”. To Heidi and Polly it’s those historic links which highlight both the ways in which women’s lives have changed, and the ways they have stayed the same, over the past forty years.
The expectation that being a mother will have a particular effect on your practice is one notion Heidi and Polly say is alive and well, and their frustration at this assumption is a driving force behind the event. It’s unsurprising then when Heidi explains that the event “has an element of protest”, and the acronym 'FFS' though unintentional, is apt. She explains with exasperation that she’s witnessed her artists peers “treated as invisible” after becoming mothers, often by those who “you wouldn't think would be discriminating, they probably feminist, independent women who would hate to think that they were doing that. But it’s just so entrenched in our society, those biases” says Polly. She says even attending an exhibition can be a frustration, as peers seem panicked by a mother without her children in tow, more so than by a father. Polly says even if men are the primary carer there is no assumption “that they have children [and that] must influence the rest of their life and their work… even if they are the primary carers, they’re not approached in the same way of ‘Oh! Where’s your kid?’. “And there’s the idea, Fight for Self” says Polly, “Yeah, still a human, still an individual” Heidi intones.
Though Heidi and Polly still see the starting point of Fight for Self as mothers who are artists, they acknowledge how it has already “developed into a broader conversation” about selfhood, parenthood and indolence, and welcome anyone attracted to the concept to attend.
The event is open to the public, but seating is limited to fifty, so get in quickly. Heidi and Polly also plan to record, live stream and transcribe the event, the details of which are available here.
Fight for Self at the Lion Arts Centre, this Saturday the 23rd of September. Doors open at 2 for a 2.30pm start and discussion runs until 4.
*"Note this discussion is not limited to mothers but is an open dialogue around the aforementioned topics. Parents, non-parents and all genders welcome to attend and/or participate." -Heidi Kenyon