Mother (Singular) was an exhibition in collaboration with photographer Keano Anton. It ran at Goldtapped Gallery in Newcastle as part of The Late Shows in 2018.
Mother (singular) explores the strength, vulnerability, tenderness and loss that are intrinsic to the relationships between mothers and their children. It focuses on two women, both living in the North-East of England, who brought up their children without a partner, and considers the impact of this on familial intimacy.
Through photographs, interview and prose, the exhibition examines the notion of protection between mother and child and questions whether the role of protector fluctuates when parents are in fragile situations.
The work prompts the viewer to think about the different languages in which we communicate and our perceptions of feminine roles. It questions family hierarchies and celebrates strength and vulnerability.
Skin to Skin (Essay)
My relationship with my mother is a subject I have been working with for the past two years. I’m especially interested relationships between mothers and daughters because they are founded on such a powerful kind of love. It can be light and gold and full of joy but there is also something deeper and heavier beneath the surface; dark red and dangerous.
It makes sense to me to write about my relationship with my mother through bodily images. I feel her in my skin. I’m interested in being a woman who shares physical characteristics with my mother, but also has differences. I’m interested in the juxtaposition between my personal experience of inhabiting a body and the way it is perceived by others in the world. All of the beautiful, shameful, tender and painful aspects of my body are in some way connected to my mother and in some way connected to all of the other women living around us.
My mother has watched me grow from a child into an adult, as I have watched her change throughout the years. I know some parts of her body so intimately; the veins on the backs of her hands (‘work-worn hands are hereditary’, she tells me) and the freckles across her chest. She knows my body; the scar on my thigh and the skin tag on my inner wrist. And yet there are parts of each other that we do not know at all any more.
Our first experiences of our birth mothers are bodily. As a woman, I find almost all of my experiences have some kind of connection to the way in which my body occupies space in the world. It seems impossible for me to write about my mother without thinking about our own flesh and sinews.
My mother divorced my father around the time of my puberty. She started going out a lot and had new boyfriends. I was learning for the first time how to inhabit a body with sexual currency, one that could not pass through the world unseen, as she was remembering that power herself. I observed the effervescence with which she bought new dresses and drank pints of lager and taught herself pleasure all over again. I am still so struck by the image of my mother in those days; the confidence with which she seemed to own her body and the way she enjoyed being in her skin, despite everything.
It is important for me to write about my mother because I want her to be acknowledged. She had a difficult relationship with my father, who has a difficult relationship with alcohol. My younger brother was born deaf, so she had a lot to deal with when we were growing up. She had to learn new languages and a different way of being. I feel angry when I think about the ways in which she was not protected. I feel hurt that she had no one to protect her. I can’t go back and change that, so it feels important that I can articulate it. I want people to read about her.
We all operate in different languages, through verbal discourse but also in the non-verbal ways we move through our lives. Writing is one of my most fluent languages, which is why I am interested in examining the unspoken and attempting to give that rich, dark, red another form. Familial relationships have so many unsaid tensions running through their fabric. I want to have conversations about the physical and emotional labour women are forced to undertake, and the sacrifices they have to make. My writing is about my personal relationship with my mother and her life but it is also about wider structural issues regarding gender roles, power and care.
Keano shot these images of our mothers in his back yard in Fenham. Afterwards, my mother and I went for a coffee in town. I went to order while she found a table. I looked over to find she had struck up a conversation in sign language with a deaf stranger next to her. The other people in the café were watching them, intrigued by an exchange they could not understand. I felt so proud then, walking over with our coffees, that I could sit next to her, and that she is my mam.