The Missing Mother

Online Conference (will be recorded)

University of Bolton, UK

22 and  23 April 2021

9Am – 16:30 (GMT)

This interdisciplinary online conference, featuring keynote speaker Dr Andrea O’Reilly (York University, Toronto), aims to address spaces of scholarly and creative enquiry from which the figure of the mother has, historically speaking, been missing. Dr. O’Reilly’s own work on matricentric feminism notes the neglect of the mother in academic feminism. This conference comes out of an investigation into canonical academic feminism; similarly, art history as a scholarly discipline has largely excluded maternal art, resulting in a tradition of critique in which representations of maternity have existed in an occluded space – a forced instance of feminist separatism. This conference is invested, then, in exploring ‘the missing mother’ in these, and other, disciplines. We are interested, as Dr. O’Reilly suggests, in feminism(s) both on and of maternity; in considerations of  the social, psychic and symbolic order of the mother; in activism; in social and political manifestations of motherhood, the mother, mothering and the maternal. We acknowledge and value the manifold and invaluable contributions to this field of the professional and scholarly communities involved in midwifery and medical discourses; for the purposes of this conference, however, we would like to hear from those disciplines from which the maternal has been historically absent. 

With contributions from scholars, makers and researchers across a wide variety of disciples, presentations will be in the form of both traditional papers and alternative modes of presentation. They will include performance, music, creative writing and discussions, on aspects of motherhood and maternity that will include the following areas:

  • neoliberalism and the segregation of mothers
  • the social, creative and intellectual isolation of the mother
  • forgotten/erased histories
  • the mother as political and social experience, 
  • art/literary depictions of the mother/maternity/motherhood
  • aging and feminism
  • maternal invisibility
  • femininity and maternity/motherhood 
  • the voice(s) of the mother in subcultures

contact M.Mullaney@bolton.ac.uk

This event is ticketed over two days and free to attend please book here.

The Missing Mother Tickets, Thu 22 Apr 2021 at 09:00 | Eventbrite

Conference Proceedings (GMT)

 Thursday 22nd April     
 9amConference Introduction
Patrick McGhee and Sam Johnson
  9.20    ErasureMartina Mullaney  
 Felicity Allen The Disoevre’s Missing Mother 15 
Penny Davis Auto-ethnographic Drawing:
visualising epiphanic narratives of maternal
embodiment as a single mother
 Julie Prescott & Paul Hollins ‘I’m there but I’m
not there:’ Absence/Presence and reflections
on the impact of the ‘missing mother’.
 Q&A 15 
10.30Martina Mullaney The Missing Mother, how can art on
and of maternity transcend its own audience?
 Q&A 10 
11.10TextualityJulie Prescott  
 Ben Wilkinson “A wild queendom”: Liz Berry’s ‘The Republic
of Motherhood’ as écriture féminine
 Valerie O’Riordan Language Games: The Gendered Politics
of the Speech Act in Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School
 Jill Marsden Constructs of maternity and the reality of fiction:
Reading the mother in three narratives of the abandoned wife
 Q&A 15 
12.10Lunch Break   
13.00InvisibilityJulie Prescott  
 Betty Doyle End of the Line: An Exploration into the
Poetics of Infertility
 Lena Simic & Emily Underwood-Lee Maternal Performance:
Relations and Embodiments
 Ciara Healy Musson Mother to the Other 15 
 Q&A 15 
14.00Symbolic OrderPaul Hollins  
 Martina Cleary Trauma, Healing & Transformation:
The Potential of the Symbolic Order of the Mother
 Sarah Greaves The Other In Mother 15 
 Rebecca Farmer The disappearance of a mother, the
death of a father, and the untold stories in between
 Q&A 15  
15.15Subjectivity Valerie O’Riordan  
 Ewelina Feldman Kolodziejduk The erasure of
maternal subjectivity: the labour narrative in
Margaret Atwood’s
short story, “Giving Birth”
 Helen Sargeant How to thrive as an artist/mother who
also has an invisible disability
 Dr Rachel Epp Buller Letters as Maternal Method in
 Q&A 15 
16.15Conference Close   
   Friday 23rd April     
9.00Barbara Philipp (Performance) All alone in this world
Paul Hollings
9.15CommunityPaul Hollins  
 Rachel Fallon The Aprons of Power 15 
 Maxine Chester The Geriatric Mother 15 
 Lily Gorlin The Flexitime Quilt: maternal labour,
time management and visibility
 Q&A 15 
10.30ProvocationsJulie Prescott  
 Hannah Bowles When is a good time to have a
baby? 10 years on.  
 Mila Oshin Wombanifesto 15 
 Zuzana Stefkova Mothers Artlovers: Creativity
and the Maternal
 Q&A 15 
11.30PracticeMartina Mullaney  
 Esther Windsor Elemental Passions (after
Luce Irigaray)
 Paula Chambers Cathy Wilkes and the Green
Dress: An Encounter with Maternal Materiality
 Barbara Philipp All alone in this world
(Mutterseelenallein): Part 2
 Q&A 15 
13.00LabourValerie O’Riordan  
 Martina Hynan Locating A Mother’s Touch:
Cartographies of Haptic Encounters
 Elizabeth Claffey Inner Lives and Cultural Contexts 15 
 Shweta Bist The Withering Artist in Mother 15 
 Q&A 15 
14.00Andrea O’Reilly: Keynote
Matricentric Feminism: Beyond Gender and
Towards Resistance and Inclusive Mothering
Martina Mullaney60 
 Q&A 15 
15.30Stopping the Fucking Wheel takes
place in association with Desperate Art Wives.
It will be recorded and additionally broadcast as a
special hour-long episode of the Desperate Art Wives
Woman Up series of podcasts. This discussion and
podcast marks more than 10 years of maternal activism.  
In discussion: Martina Mullaney (Enemies of Good art),
Amy Dignam (Desperate Artwives), Paula McCloskey
(A Place of Their Own), Lesly Deschler Canossi and
Zoraida Lopez-Diago (Women Picturing Revolution),
Ruchika Wason Singh (AMMAA)
Susan Merrick60 
16.30Closing Remarks: Conference Organisers   

The Missing Mother Conference 2021 Abstracts

Day 1 (Thursday 22nd April)

9.20-10.20 Erasure (Chair: Martina Mullaney)

Felicity Allen: The Disoeuvre’s Missing Mother


Felicity Allen makes paintings, books and films, often collaboratively. She is working on two durational projects: developing the concept of the Disoeuvre (a feminist alternative to the artist’s oeuvre); and producing series of Dialogic Portraits. Her most recent work is Figure to Ground: a site losing its system (trailer: https://vimeo.com/527359904)


In my work in conceptualising the Disoeuvre, I argue that the art work of an artist who lacks the identity of the socially endorsed artist is unlikely to produce an oeuvre, but a Disoeuvre: s/he has to work to change social and institutional structures in order both to make work and to have it recognised as exhibitable and recordable. Thus her work is produced through the social and the institutional, as well as the oeuvre’s ideal of a studio.  I draw on my own experience and work to consider this in relation to the Missing Mother.  My own mother started to note symptoms around the time of my birth.  She died of a brain tumour when I was eleven.  Within a year the entire structure of my life was decimated.  Years were lost. Mothering lost.  Institutional sexism prevailed. At 30 I was a post-graduate at the Slade. At 35 I gained a permanent post as an art school lecturer. At 37 I became the first woman I knew of to dare to have a child as a lecturer in a fine art department. I had been in the first generation of British women to avoid marriage and motherhood in our early twenties. In our mid-thirties I made work about the anxieties and ambivalences many of us felt about whether, now, to dare to become mothers. I was bullied out of my position in the art school. With two young children I withdrew from my art space/networks. The causes were the degree of institutional and collegiate antipathy to my daring to become a mother, my own internalised insecurities about the mother/artist dichotomy, and my unconscious re-enactment of my mother’s role supporting partner and children. Although I failed to recognise it at the time, I continued to make and exhibit work. After a decade of full-time work as breadwinner and single parent, my teenage children encouraged me to make art and they continue to support my work as an artist.  Post-institutional and, to an extent, post-maternal, I can reflect on the work I have made as an artist and a mother. My daughter doesn’t suffer from the debilitating doubt I own as a woman of my generation whose mother has lived mostly in my imagination. The work I made before my children’s birth that concerns maternal ambivalence seems at last to have meaning for others than myself.

Penny Davis: Auto-ethnographic Drawing: visualising epiphanic narratives of maternal embodiment as a single mother


Born in Portsmouth, UK, Penny Davis is an artist, mother and practice-led PhD researcher. Graduating from Chelsea College of Art (UAL) in 1999, and the Slade School of Art (UCL) in 2001, Davis was a Skowhegan resident (USA) in 2004. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally and most recently her drawings and writings were published in Maternal Art Magazine (2020).


As an arts practice-led PhD researcher I will share my journey as a single mother artist to three t(w)eens through a hybrid practice of drawing and autoethnography. In presenting my drawing practice I would like to focus on how I approached the silencing and erasing of aspects of my maternal embodied experience during my research. In exploring how to visualise maternal embodiment through drawing, I discover what remains absent from contemporary mother-artist representations of the maternal subject, the ethical constraints of visualising the maternal body and the ways in which I become silenced in the process of self-representation. In focusing on the entanglements between desire and ambivalence as they unfold within my situated and tacit knowledge, I catch a glimpse of myself in the epiphanic moment. As a methodology, autoethnography becomes centripetal to excavating these epiphanic moments in mothering adolescents as they emerge in the spatio-temporal slippages between maternal desire and ambivalence. Autoethnography allows for an ethico-onto-epistemological process of writing, selecting, and editing data to reveal the vulnerable, situated and precarious entanglements of post-human maternal experience. I will discuss my research process as it has become a process of unfolding and infolding drawing and writing to reveal moments of maternal touch and speech that visualise and make meaning of how maternal embodied experiences become erased and forgotten. I will discuss the limitations of drawing to make meaning and the ways in which I use digital technologies to weave temporality and narrative as essential to the autoethnographic drawing practice of representing maternal embodied experience.

Julie Prescott and Paul Hollins: ‘I’m there but I’m not there’ Absence/Presence and reflections on the impact of the ‘missing mother’


Julie is a Reader in Psychology and is the programme lead for the undergraduate Psychology, Psychotherapy and Counselling Programme at the University of Bolton. Julie is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and holds APA membership. Julie’s current research area focuses on technology and health/mental health, with a particular interest in young people and online counselling as well as how people gain support and use online technologies for their health and mental health support.  Julie is on the editorial board for JMIR Mental Health, a sister journal to the leading health and technology journal, JMIR.

Paul is a Professor of cultural research development for the School of Arts at University of Bolton and a Director of the Leeds Conservatoire. His research interests focus on the arts, technology, education, music and sub-cultures. His PhD was focused on technology, education and play and he is a fellow of the Cybernetics society.


In this session the authors examine and reflect on the work and impact of 2011 exhibition of maternal art, ‘Presence’. The instillation consisted of a collection of photographic images, ephemera and artefacts representing over half a century of motherhood. A significant element of which consisted of work that involved the conscious removal, distortion of the image of the mother replaced by representative silhouettes and shadows where the missing mother’s images had been.  Interpretation varied from the visceral response of the artists sister as one of personal recognition of disenfranchisement and emotional, if not physical, abandonment, as representation of neglect and dismissal. The images depicting ‘absence’ represented by the negative space as being evocative of a dark childhood missed. Whilst, conversely, others without prior emotional attachment to the images engaging with the work characterised it as being an appreciation of the significance of the mother of the role of the mother and recognition of the contribution of mothers to society. The missing mother and subject of the study attended the exhibition in person. Presented with familiar and yet unfamiliar images and associated ephemera of her life. ‘Are you going to put me back in the pictures when you have finished your exhibition?’ The meaning of the exhibition either lost or dismissed. The authors present a short and emotive video recording of the event which depicts the often-uncomfortable interaction between mother and artist (daughter). This is followed by an interactive session discussing the questions posed focussed on a paradoxical question; If mothers are ‘present’ are they ‘missing’?

10.30-11.10:  Martina Mullaney: The Missing Mother, how can art on and of maternity transcend its own audience?


Martina Mullaney is in the process of completing her PhD by practice at the University of Reading. Her research looks at the Missing Mother from the canon that is art history and feminist art. Her practice challenges established forms of art on maternity. She has an MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art. She won the Red Mansion Art Prize (China) 2003, and has exhibited with Yossi Milo Gallery in New York, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Gallery of Photography, Dublin and Ffotogallery, Cardiff. After the birth of her daughter she initiated the project Enemies of Good Art in 2009 a multi-disciplinary research project interrogating motherhood as experience and the art world. The project was executed through a series of public meetings, performances, lectures and live radio discussions. Events took place at; Tate Modern, the ICA, Southbank Centre and Chisenhale Gallery. Tranzit Display Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic and Galerija Nova, Zagreb in 2015. Enemies of God Art also broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM.


The Missing Mother and body of work Usually she is disappointed come out of my Ph.D. by practice.  The thesis identifies the mother as missing from the canon that is feminism and art history, traced through anthologies, conferences, and group exhibitions dedicated to feminism and art. Where maternity is included, Mary Kelly and Post Partum Document dominate. Due to the exclusion of maternal art not only from what is considered to be the art and feminist canon, art and writing on maternity operates in spaces and initiatives dedicated to the subject, a form of feminist separatism by default. This is further compounded by Matricentric feminism, a critique of academic feminism for neglecting the mother that calls for a feminism that marks the mother its central focus. In the contemporary art world of exhibitions, writing, critique, in commercial and publicly-funded art contexts maternal art must seek its own opportunities, as maternity rarely features in mainstream contemporary galleries.

In asking how art on and of maternity might transcend its own audience, I explore the absence of the mother from feminism and art history, asking how contemporary art on maternity, and maternal experiences might integrate with other genres to gain entry to the conventional spaces of art practice and writing. Considering the social, psychic and symbolic order of the mother, the works of Usually she is disappointed challenge established forms of art on maternity. The works move beyond body-centric essentially determinate art where the maternal experience is explicit in the work, to adopt activist, social, and political manifestations. The works make reference to the patriarchal nature of language to refigure the mother as a political and social experience, one suppressed by a neoliberalism that isolates mothers socially, creatively, and intellectually.

11.10-12.10 Textuality (Chair: Julie Prescott)

Ben Wilkinson: “A wild queendom”: Liz Berry’s ‘The Republic of Motherhood’

as écriture feminine


Ben Wilkinson teaches Creative Writing on the faculty at the University of Bolton. His debut collection of poems, Way More Than Luck (Seren, 2018), was highly commended in the Forward Prizes for Poetry. A reader’s guide to the poetry of Don Paterson will be published by Liverpool University Press in November.


US poet Sharon Olds summarised the difficulties facing women poets writing out of second-wave feminism, recalling a male editor’s response to her submitting motherhood poems to a periodical in the 1970s: ‘The editor would say, if you wish to write about your children may we suggest the Ladies Home Journal. We are a literary magazine’. This is one of many examples of a phallogocentric literary culture that still persists today, that which Helene Cixous famously identified as the ‘unifying, regulating [patriarchal] history that homogenises and channels forces, herding contradictions into a single battlefield’ (‘Laugh of the Medusa’, 1975, 882). Cixous’s concept of écriture féminine (literally ‘women’s writing’) offers a potential solution to this dilemma, urging that ‘woman must write herself, must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away [by patriarchy] as violently as their bodies’ (875). In this paper, I will explore how the contemporary British poet Liz Berry (b. 1981) both enacts and questions Cixous’s notion of women’s writing in her poetic explorations of femininity and motherhood. Through close reading of ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ (2018), I will discuss the poem as a radical literary work, one that interrogates the patriarchal notion of ‘the mother’ – what Cixous might describe as ‘a little cage of meaning … nothing but a social tool and rigid concept’ (Coming to Writing, 1986, 49). I will suggest that in presenting motherhood as ‘cross[ing] the border’ into another country, Berry both parodies the regulatory order which patriarchy seeks to impose, but also questions the ability of women’s writing to fully transcend a pervasive mode of thinking and being, to ‘undo the unique meaning’, as Luce Irigaray suggests, ‘the proper meaning of words, of nouns, which still regulates all discourse’ (Irigaray, ‘Women’s Exile’, 1977, 65).

Valerie O’Riordan: Language Games: The Gendered Politics of the Speech Act

in Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School


Dr Valerie O’Riordan lectures in Creative Writing and English at the University of Bolton. Her fiction has appeared in numerous national and international publications, including Tin House, LitMag, The Lonely Crowd, and The Manchester Review; she has won the O. Henry Prize and the Bristol Short Story Prize, and has been the recipient of grants from both Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Ireland. Her areas of academic research include contemporary Anglophone literature, critical posthumanism, trauma studies, and intersectional feminism, and she has published on AL Kennedy, Ali Smith, and Chris Adrian. She is currently co-editing a Special Issue of Contemporary Women’s Writing on the works of Jennifer Egan. 


In her ground-breaking work on the construction of masculine identity, R.W. Connell argues that masculinity is not a unitary phenomenon; that masculinities emerge as “configurations of practice” (1995; 2005), which themselves emerge from situationally specific choices drawn from a ‘cultural repertoire’ of so-called masculine behaviour (Wetherell and Edley 1999). Ben Lerner’s 2020 novel, The Topeka School, calls overt attention to this process by focussing on the coding of particular speech-acts as masculine – the highly rarefied practice of competitive high-school debate, and the middle-class phenomenon of wealthy suburban boys mimicking the poetics of gangster rap – in the context of mid-nineties, small-town Kansas. Moreover, just as Connell recognizes a relationship between “neo-liberalism, the position of men, and the reconstruction of bourgeois masculinity” (255), Lerner’s novel makes this relationship specific by contextualising these particular speech-acts as the cultural precursors to the rise of the alt-right and Trump’s America; in The Topeka School, then, speech-acts are not simply gendered but shown to have significant contemporary political ramifications.

In this paper, I will argue that while Lerner carefully unveils this particular construction of masculinity, he also presents two alternative models of gendered speech-act that subvert what Helene Cixous calls the libidinal and cultural masculine economy (879). Firstly, the novel includes numerous instances where the symbolic order of language fails as the characters’ speech patterns collapse; I will argue here that these fissures act, as Cixous says, as springboards for subversive thought – thought, which is here linked explicitly by the narrator to the figure of the mother, or the natal. Secondly, the novel ends with a scene of political protest by families on behalf of Trump’s caged children, in which a crowd, led by a mother, collectively voices dissent: here, the figure of the mother enables a gender-inclusive speaking-back against the dominant masculinist order. The novel thus uses the mother as a key locus of political dissent, resistance and change.

Jill Marsden:  Constructs of maternity and the reality of fiction: Reading the mother in three narratives of the abandoned wife


Jill is programme leader for English and Creative Writing at the University of Bolton. She has written on feminism and the body in a range of different publications including Women’s Philosophy Review, Women: A Cultural Review, Radical Philosophy, The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Gender in Flux (2004) and Cyberpsychosis (1999).


What is it to be a mother when you are no longer a wife? This question is explored in three literary depictions of the ‘abandoned’ woman: Simone de Beauvoir’s The Woman Destroyed (1967), Patricia Highsmith’s Edith’s Diary (1977) and Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment (2002). Each text is distinctive in its exposure of the pervasive fictions of patriarchal motherhood and each is striking in the way in which it holds up the construct of the mother to our scrutiny. The three protagonists share much in common: white, middle-class and middle-aged, each have been deserted by their husbands for a younger woman; each experiences something akin to a mental breakdown, losing a sense of self-identity; and each turns to writing as a means of negotiating a relationship to her changed reality. Perhaps less obvious, though, is the fact that each character is also a mother – a role that has developed within the context of marriage but which now must continue with a different meaning. The aim of the paper is to show how each text renders visible the work of mothering, revealing not only how the protagonists ‘read’ their respective maternal scripts but also how they might be re-written once divested of patriarchal assumptions. Both implicitly and explicitly, Highsmith and Ferrante take up the plight of Beauvoir’s ‘destroyed woman’ and re-write her narrative, compelling the reader to contemplate what is ‘missing’ in her classic account of sexual betrayal.

13.00-14.00: Invisibility (Chair: Julie Prescott)

Betty Doyle: End of the Line: An Exploration into the Poetics of Infertility


Betty is a poet and PhD student from Merseyside. She is currently studying for a PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University, examining the poetics of atypical motherhood poetry with a specific focus on infertility poetry. Her poetry pamphlet, Girl Parts, will be released by Verve in March 2022. Twitter: betty_poet


Infertility is a topic that is defined by an osmotic relationship of absence and silence. There is the absence of a child, and of a social discourse that both presents and represents such absence; also the silence of a society where pronatalism is key and childfreeness a taboo, and the silence of language that has difficulty portraying the intangibility of an atypical loss. Despite infertility affecting 1 in 7 UK couples1, there is not much in the way of a discourse surrounding the experience. This lack of discourse not only affects how we, as a society, discuss infertility, but also how infertility is written about. 1 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/infertility/ Recently, motherhood poetry has enjoyed an upsurge. Yet poetry that reflects the reality of atypical motherhood, and of infertility, remains scant in comparison. The silence, absence, intangibility, and grief related to infertility remains complicated to translate into poetry – in part due to Western society’s pronatalism, but also due to the difficulty of creating a linear narrative, applying language, and filling the physical space of a page in regard to an experience defined by silence and absence. My postgraduate practice-led research explores how poets create narrative discourses and utilise poetics to convey the silence and absence of infertility. I am also writing my own poems that experiment with poetics that present and represent this silence and absence. This creative presentation will showcase my research into this topic, and also serve as a platform for me to read my own poetry and discuss my writing process.

Lena Šimić and Emily Underwood-Lee: Maternal Performance: relations and embodiments


Dr Lena Šimić is a Reader in Drama at Edge Hill University. Her research areas include contemporary performance practice, live art, art activism, feminist theatre and performance, and critical arts practice in relation to climate crisis, ecology and environment.



Dr Emily Underwood-Lee is Associate Professor in Performance Studies at the University South Wales. Her work focuses on amplifying little heard personal stories. She has a particular interest in the performance of the maternal, gender, health/illness and heritage.




This paper will present the synchronous relationship between the artform of performance and the maternal. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s distinction between the private realm of labour and the public domain of action, we will argue that performance is able to make visible the quotidian and often invisible experience of the maternal and present it as worthy of intellectual and political consideration, which is a radical act of resistance. We will draw on the findings of our Performance and the Maternal research project which includes a series of ‘Engage’ fora (Autumn 2020) and twelve interviews with prominent international mother/artists which we have conducted since 2016.

The contribution will take the form of a correspondence between the two authors in order to

emphasise the relational. Both performance and the maternal discipline privilege the body of the artist or the mother, the body which is making real actions in a specific time and place. It is through performance and live art that mother/artists’ maternal bodies are made visible and employed as a transgressive site of meaning, allowing a renegotiation of what it is to mother and what is a maternal act. The presentation will discuss the work of some of the most transgressive and radical bodily acts of maternal performances (Amanda Coogan, Helena Walsh, Lynn Lu, Nathalie Angeuzomo Mba Bikoro), which are brought to public consideration through performance art. The public presentation of the oozing maternal body, with leaking breasts, bloody uterus and various other bodily excretions, is routine in the daily action of caring for a dependent other, and yet becomes radical when placed in

the public domain for consideration as the site of meaning.

Ciara Healy-Musson: Mother to the Other


Ciara Healy-Musson is a Writer, Book Artist, Curator and Programme Director in Art, Culture & Heritage at IT Carlow, Ireland. She is the recipient of an IMPACT Research Award from

University of Reading (2016), a Large Grant Award from Arts Council Wales for a curatorial

research project titled Thin Place (2015) and she was one of the 2011 recipients of the Wales

Arts International Critical Writing Award. http://www.ciarahealymusson.ie

Institutional Affiliation: IT Carlow, Ireland. https://www.itcarlow.ie/research/researchers/meetresearchers-



In recent decades, Europe, along with many other parts of the world, has seen a rapid decline in fertility rates. Several factors are thought to be driving that decline: from contemporary lifestyles; a rise in obesity to environmental pollution. In addition, there are socio-economic obstacles that have led to delaying having children. These include a lack of affordable housing,

flexible and part-time career posts and affordable child-care. As a result, many people delay starting a family, which has led to a true decline in their fertility levels, leading to reduced chances of conception. This paper looks at what it means to be a missing mother, what it means to literally have missed out on conventional concepts of motherhood due to infertility and, in so doing, it reconsiders and re-visions what it might mean to mother what ecologist David Abram calls “other forms of sentience”1 in the 21st century. The expanded concept of motherhood proposed in this paper offers agency to, and care for, sentient kin from the more-than-human world. Such interconnected relationships were implicit in many indigenous communities and have emerged in many contemporary communities in recent years, most especially since Covid-19 lockdowns began. Drawing on personal experience, poetry and mythology as well as case studies from contemporary visual art and feminist/environmentalist theories of Donna Haraway and Isabelle Stengers, this paper reclaims an enriched definition of what motherhood is, and can be, in a time of climate change and a global pandemic.

14.00-15.00: Symbolic Order (Chair: Paul Hollins)

Martina Cleary: Trauma, Healing & Transformation – The Potential of the Symbolic Order of the Mother


Martina Cleary MA MEd. studied at NCAD, Crawford College of Art & Design, the Finnish Academy of Fine Art, Aalto University, and the European Centre for Photographic Research e(CPR). Her areas of research interest include; Photography & Memory, Jungian Psychology, Feminist Art History & Critical Theory, and New Technologies. Website: www.martinacleary.com Orchid Profile: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6031-4429 Lecturer in Photography Film Video, Postgraduate Research Supervisor and contributing lecture on the Art, Psyche & Creative Imagination programme, Limerick Institute of Technology/LSAD


Women’s Aid Ireland noted in their Annual Report (2020), a 43% rise in contacts with the National Freephone Helpline during the Covid-19 crisis. The Irish Government’s report on ‘Domestic Violence in Ireland and Covid-19’ (2020), describes a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” linked to global lockdowns. In the UK, ONS notes “offences flagged as domestic abuse-related increased each month from April to June 2020”. The evidence of a pandemic in domestic violence, parallel to that of Covid-19 is overwhelming. Meanwhile discussions of recovery are occupied with the reopening of different sectors of society – the practical, functional, logistical and economic indicators of a return to normality. There is little mention of the psychological fallout of what has been experienced, especially for women who have lived through the trauma of domestic violence. For many, it will seem as if progress made has been rolled back decades. In (2011) I completed a two-year arts-based research project, gathering the testimonies of survivors of gender-based and domestic abuse. A commonality within many was the transformative moment when the desire of a mother to protect her daughter, very often marked a turning point. For this conference, I propose to revisit this work, and discuss the symbolic order of the mother, particularly within the myth of Demeter and Persephone, which was central to the work produced. This will include an in-depth look at the hidden history of the psychological and archetypal complex central to this story, and its potential for transformative healing.

Sarah Greaves: The Other In Mother


Sarah Greaves is an award winning visual artist and art psychotherapist. Greaves’ artwork has been exhibited extensively across the UK, awarded Arts Council funding and has received international press and publicity including two interviews on BBC Radio 4. Her work has been published in various international books and journals.


The Other in Mother is an art installation that explores the psychological transition women experience in becoming mothers. This piece challenges the narrow societal view and exposes the multiple narratives of motherhood Many mothers are ill prepared for motherhood. Antenatal sessions focus on birth and the physical rather than the psychological experience. These unspoken, unacknowledged changes in identity have been described as the ‘maternal transition’ and there is a social expectation to make these changes without loss or sadness.

Inside a bump-like five metre diameter dome over 50 clear spheres suspend in the space. Inspired by the research each sphere contains transitioned and manipulated objects that represent women’s ‘maternal transition’. A collision of pre and post birth identities that is at times uncomfortable and traumatic, beautiful and affirming. Greaves’ research and socially engaged practice included interviews with perinatal professionals and work with a group of mothers to visually explore their experiences. She created an interactive social media campaign that saw over 60 women world wide upload objects and stories about their experiences forming The Other in Mother Library of Objects. The piece toured north west venues including Manchester Art Gallery and Gallery Oldham and was seen by over 2800 visitors. Commissioned by the charity Arc, funded by Arts Council England, Manchester Art Gallery, Cheshire East Council and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. For The Missing Mothers I have many images and a film that I could present.

Rebecca Farmer: The disappearance of a mother, the death of a father, and the untold stories in between


My mother wore a yellow dress;

Gently, gently, gentleness.

Come back early or never come.

When I was five the black dreams came;

Nothing after was quite the same.


Writing in 1940 the Irish poet Louis MacNeice remembered his childhood at the Rectory in

Carrickfergus. The ‘black dreams’ came at the age of four when his mother, Lily,

disappeared into a nursing home in Dublin. He never saw her again and she died in 1914,

when he was seven. He later described the reasons for her death as ‘obscure’ and it

haunted him for the rest of his life. In her memoir, his older sister described how their mother had returned home in 1912 after a successful hysterectomy but left again the

following year having become ‘sad’ and mentally disturbed. Researching my own family history, I discovered more details about the death of my maternal grandfather when my mother was eleven years old. He was an engineer and died when a boiler exploded in Dublin. The fact that this boiler was in a psychiatric hospital had never been mentioned. The hospital is now closed but at one time it housed 2500 patients. Many of them entered the hospital never to leave it alive. Such places held a stigma: in my own family I remembered references to aunties who were ‘sick and away’. We know the name of Lily MacNeice because of the work of her son. This paper will examine her absence as a major theme of his work and the way in which it can highlight the untold stories of other missing mothers. rmlfarmer@gmail.com

1.15-16.15: Subjectivity (Chair Valerie O’Riordan)

Ewelina Feldman-Kołodziejuk: The erasure of maternal subjectivity: the labour narrative in Margaret Atwood’s short story “Giving Birth”


Ewelina Feldman-Kołodziejuk is an assistant at the University of Białystok, Poland. She has just submitted her doctoral dissertation devoted to the intergenerational transmission of motherhood in the fiction of Margaret Atwood. Her articles oscillate around the themes of motherhood and geopoetics. She is also a co-editor of two collections of essays.


The presentation aims to discuss the deconstruction of maternal discourse that underpins Atwood’s short story “Giving Birth”, which can be labelled as a labour narrative and which sets the scene for the discussion of motherhood as a constant struggle between oppressive norms and female experience. Published one year after Of Woman Born, the story expertly navigates the two notions that are central to Rich’s book: motherhood understood as an oppressive patriarchal institution, in the story embodied by medical staff and procedures, and mothering understood as profound experience, which can be empowering and transformative. Hospital birth is reduced to a sequence of medical practices rather than viewed as a moment of transition in a woman’s life. Her subjectivity and agency are totally forsaken as she is given a status of a patient who is “examined, labelled around the wrist and given an enema”. The complex experience of pregnancy is masterly explored in the discussed story through the introduction of the protagonists double, another expectant woman who clearly does not rejoice in her prospective maternal role. Regardless of her motives, which are not revealed, the other woman challenges the official maternal discourse which posits that childbearing is every woman’s desire and destiny. “Giving Birth” may be read as a search for adequate language to encompass the complex experience of child bearing as much as it is an attempt at demystifying the still dominant patriarchal discourse of motherhood. Ewelina Feldman-Kołodziejuk, Ph.D. candidate (Univeristy of Białystok, Poland)

ORCID: 0000-0003-1205-1510

Helen Sargeant: How to thrive as an artist/mother who also has an invisible disability


I have developed a collaborative practice with my family and others with the aim of widening the representation of work related to arts practice and the maternal subject. My work is

autobiographical, it involves, researching, exploring, capturing and recording the complexity of emotions I feel and my experiences of mothering my two children. I collect, collate, draw, write, paint, perform, take photographs, make films, sound pieces and installations.

Contact info: mobile – 07811337355: helen_sargeant@hotmail.com: maternalarthome@gmail.com: Instagram: @sargeanthelen @maternalart: www.helensargeant.co.uk: www.maternalart.com: http://www.helensargeant.co.uk Page $1 of $1 Helen Sargeant


As an artist and a mother I have experienced both personal and institutional invisibility and my current practice is framed around how to address my invisible disability and to connect with other-mothers. In 2021 at the beginning of the pandemic I set up Maternal Art as a way to help raise the representation of women and artist/mothers working with the maternal subject and to create a compassionate and caring space in order to support and promote their work. I also wanted to raise the value of artists making work about the maternal subject and to provide a platform for representation digitally and physically and to create a supportive on-line community around the project. Maternal Art is a guerrilla organisation that is unfunded and is currently run by a team of two, myself and Jo Parker an MA Student at the University of Bolton. To date we have helped to support and maintain the work of artists that we represent through selling work in our gallery, we collaborated with 24 artists to produce Maternal Art Magazine: Issue One – Stay At Home and we also have a series of blog posts from artists writing about how the pandemic has affected their work and life which is published weekly. There is also a series of talks called Tea with MAM whereby I interview artists in their studios via Instagram live as a means of providing an accessible way for all those who identify as women artists and who make work about the maternal to promote their practice. Since the COVID-19 Pandemic it has not been possible for me to work in my studio therefore I have been responding to this situation by working from home and with what materials I have around me. Most recently I have been making work using embroidery and sewing into domestic fabrics such as old t-towels and from textiles given to me by my family such as Mrs Minsky’s Bed Sheet from India 1942. This has involved hand dyeing fabrics using spices and food from around the house such as turmeric and red cabbage. The forms that I embroider on to these textiles include words, slogans, and motifs that resemble vulva, breasts, and covid-19 viral cells. This work has also been produced during a period of talking therapy which has impacted upon the ways in which I make where I use the practice very much as a cathartic means to process difficult emotions related to my identity as a women and an artist. I would like to present a talk that references my own practice in relation to the challenges of making work during this last year and the effects of the pandemic upon my own and others work. I will make reference to work created between February 2020 to the current time.

Rachel Epp Buller: Letters as Maternal Method in Academia


Dr. Rachel Epp Buller is a visual artist, an art historian, an educator, and mother of three. Her

artistic, scholarly, and curatorial work addresses these intersections, focusing on the maternal

body and feminist care in contemporary art contexts. She has exhibited her work in solo and

group exhibitions in the US and Europe. Her books include Reconciling Art and

Mothering (2012) and Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity (2019), edited with

Charles Reeve. Her new research-creation project is tentatively titled Slow Practices for

Speculative Futures: Embodied Listening through Contemporary Art. She is a Fulbright Scholar, a board member of the National Women’s Caucus for Art, a regional coordinator of The Feminist Art Project, and Associate Professor of Visual Arts and Design at Bethel College (US). The neoliberal university is in crisis, in desperate need of new methods and perspectives, and I believe that artists, creative thinkers, feminists, and mothers have new ways of thinking to offer.


For this conference, I will propose that the epistolary form might be one way to radically transform our current institutions. Part of the potential of letters lies in the clear focus on

relations, on sender and receiver. Already two decades ago, literary scholar Anne Bower argued for letters as a form of scholarly exchange, asserting that the letter form could increase personal investment and emotional relations between scholars by signalling a “shift in attitude toward our material, ourselves, and our readers.” Accompanying this inherently relational feature of letters is its connection with slow time – a time to sit with ideas, and a time to take care, with our words and for each other. Presenting both creative and academic projects, I will discuss potential implications of letters in light of maternal time as discussed in Lisa Baraitser’s Ethics of Interruption; in the context of interpersonal academic connection, as advocated by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber in The Slow Professor; and as a feminist maternal potential of what Alison Mount et al term “slow scholarship,” which they describe as not just “looking after ourselves as academics, but rather [as] building a broader sense of care.” I posit that letters, whether in correspondence or citation, function as acts of listening that are an invitation to questions what constitutes knowledge and how that slow, relational knowledge might be embodied and shared.

Day 2

(Friday 23rd April)

9.00: Barbara Philipp: All alone in this world (Mutterseelenallein) (Introduction: Paul Hollins)


Barbara Philipp is a visual artist, working in the Netherlands and in Austria. The human body in transition in our times and its abstractions are key to her work, she explores the relationship of different formal and contextual languages. She studied in Vienna, Paris and Frankfurt and finished the master program of the Dutch Art Institute (DAI).


The mother (ventriloquist´s dummy) is visible on one of the participating screens of the on-line conference. She follows the symposium. Then it is her turn to talk. But instead of answering or reacting to the previous conversations and lectures, a moment of silence is created. Participants are asked to turn off their video screens, so that they are only seen as “black holes”, like absent minds. But they still can see the mother. Then she starts to talk. Excerpt: Yes, hello. So you are calling again are you? Im doing badly. Very badly. Its awful. Everything is awful. You have no idea. You are in the prime of your life, you cant imagine this pain at all. The last time I vomited so much was when I was pregnant with you. I was vomiting bile. They cut me open. A caesarean without pain relief. No man can imagine that. And now I am taking these drugs. Morphine to be precise. But no one can imagine this pain. No one. And in any case, who should be there for me? My children? They are out there somewhere. But Marcel, he takes care of me. He asked me straight away how I would manage with the car. If it wasnt for him… he is really my adoptive son. When my own children are no good. What are you anyway? I would have liked to be proud of my children. Like other people who can speak about their children, without making a fool of themselves. ……

9.15-10.15: Community (Chair Paul Hollins)

Rachel Fallon: The Aprons of Power – activist symbols referring to the containment of mothers and the absence of their voices within state systems.


Rachel Fallon is a visual artist who makes work around themes of protection and defence, looking at territorial wars in domestic and maternal spaces and addressing the topic of women’s relationships to society. Her work encompasses sculpture, drawing, photography and performance and is firmly rooted in the processes of making.  Je Me Souviens – I Remember Aprons of Power – Places of Power performance – Sean McDermott Street Magdalene Laundry, Dublin.  Rachel Fallon 2018 Collection of the Arts Council of Ireland


From the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 until 1996, thousands* of pregnant, unmarried mothers and potentially wayward girls were incarcerated in Magdalene Laundry Institutions and Mother and Baby Homes run by the Catholic Church – their children taken away from them, their maternal status hidden. On entry to the Magdalene Institution the woman’s hair was cut, her name was changed, her clothes taken and replaced with sack like dresses and aprons. In subverting the function of the Apron as a garment of servitude, the significance of its’ whiteness as a projector of moral righteousness and the use of state military mottos, I will discuss how these meanings were utilised to call attention to silenced motherhood in the art activist performances The Aprons of Power. Although not directly involved in incarcerating these women and girls, the State failed to protect and defend their individual liberty and human rights. Through commissions and reports it has continued to suppress their voices. The Aprons of Power performances seek to bring awareness to this injustice. The simple gesture of raising a cloth Apron above the head to show a message on its’ pink underside symbolises the ancient practice of anasyrma and supports subversive power gestures like ‘the raising of skirts”, giving voice to messages of individual and collective protest against repressive reproductive laws and the denial of maternal experience. * – inconvenient women and children were best kept “out of sight” in mother and baby homes John Downing, Irish Independent 13/01/2021 JFM Research.  

Maxine Chester: On becoming a “geriatric mother” at the age of 40 I plummeted further into cultural invisibility due to conformity within and without.


Maxine Chester is currently studying an MFA at the University for the Creative Arts. She has been involved in a range of exhibitions and collaborative projects. Maxine is currently exhibiting at the Margate School of Art, Kent as part of the ‘TJ. Max and Steve’ co-operative established in 2020.


I propose to discuss the missing mother in relation to the invisibility of the ageing female and maternal subjectivity. I intend to deliver a performative, visual practice paper interweaving a reflective personal narrative with my academic voice.  Research will be discussed in relation to matrixial theory, which proposes an expanded subjectivity by centralising the symbolic mother through the uterine and by exploring ‘othering’ and difference. (Ettinger, 2006) According to Rosemary Betterton ‘Ettinger’s maternal subjectivity is … always in the process of becoming in relation to the other, the child’. (Betterton, 2014) My visual practice surfaces ideas of ageing and fluid motherhoods – the trans-maternal, with a specific interest in the paradox within invisibility by invoking a haptic understanding of touch through materiality and process, for example, see Lumpen (Fig 1-3), Disappearing Act 1 (Fig. 4 -6) Rites of Passage (Fig. 7-9). Kathleen Woodward argues that the ageing body is, in fact culturally visually constructed by the spectators’ youthful gaze, which results in ‘hypervisible and invisible’. (Woodward, 2006) Thus, the ageing female body is separated from specificity of self. Visual representations of the unseen and the psychic field will be presented through Eve Hesse’s sculptures and Phyllida Barlow’s work regarding the eroticism of the fold. Cunt imagery will be referenced with Chicago’s The Dinner Party serving as a point of departure to explore cunt power.

Lily Gorlin: The Flexitime Quilt – maternal labour, time management and visibility


I’m currently studying for a Masters in Textile Design at Norwich University of the Arts, having graduated from Goldsmiths University with a BA in Textiles in 2008. I also teach cooking to adults with learning disabilities, and am a single mother/co-parent to a six year old son. I’m documenting this project on Instagram @h.o.m.e_e.c.o.n.o.m.i.c.s


How can I successfully manage all of the demands on my time, creativity and energy as a student, employee and single mother in these lockdown times? My research and practice explores this question through quilt making, by creating a system for production that centres my experience of motherhood, with the aim of elevating and reframing the norms of maternal, domestic and feminine creative labour. Quilts have a unique and powerful history as objects with multiple uses and meanings. They are examples of domestic resourcefulness turned artform (Gee’s Bend), memory holder (AIDS Memorial Quilt), protest symbol (The Monument Quilt) and familial love token. My Flexitime Quilt uses the process of quilt making as a strategy for coping with and recording my day today life as an artist and mother. I make my modular patchwork quilt in a cyclical seven day routine and rigorously document the hours of labour on each patch with video evidence. The design and construction of the quilt includes collaborations with my six year old son, sometimes using his stitches as a starting point, or following his choices of fabric and thread. I am finding ways to combine my creative practice with childcare responsibilities, referencing the tradition of quilting as an intergenerational practice, whilst also benefiting from the temporal efficiency of multi-tasking. This project aims to readdress the notion of The Missing Mother, in the vein of other maternal artists who bring the realities of domestic and reproductive life into the public/gallery space (Monica Bock, Courtney Kessel, Nané Jordan) but it is also a real life solution for making my workload manageable.

10.30-11.30: Provocations (Chair Julie Prescott)

Hannah Bowles: When is a good time to have a baby? 10 years on.


I am currently enrolled on MFA Curating at Goldsmiths College. My research centres around

the absence of motherhood in the art school, both in the art historical canon and tutor student conversations. I am working to establish a research group based at the Women’s Art

Library in Goldsmiths that will re-situate previously side-lined work by artist mothers into the contemporary art canon.


This question will be discussed between myself and three other MFA Curating students at

Goldsmiths in their early/mid-twenties. Influenced by Enemies of Good Art’s radio recording of the same name, I will ask the group similar questions such as, when is a good time to have children, have you thought about how you will balance a work and family life, have you ever felt held back in your career when you think about having children, do you identify as a

feminist and how does that manifest in your views towards maternity? I was struck when listening to Enemies of Good Art’s radio recording of the reluctancy for the women included to identify as feminists and how this related to the conversation surrounding motherhood.

Ten years on, feminism is the buzz word, a self-proclaiming label that has undoubtedly shaped conversations surrounding gender equality and human rights. The shift in attitudes

towards feminism has prompted positive change but arguably motherhood is still left on the

periphery. In the generation of ‘lean-in’ feminism, spearheaded by Sheryl Sandberg’s neoliberal, ‘boss-woman’ approach to labour, I will ask how this strand of feminism has shifted our approach to care and how will this impact us as future mothers.

Mila Oshin: Wombanifesto


Mila Oshin is one half of Drunk With Joy, curator of Project AfterBirth, co-director of the

Digital Institute for Early Parenthood (DIEP) and SSU lecturer at the University of Exeter

Medical School. She is also the writer/composer of Passage; an autobiographical poetry

collection and music album about her two extremely opposed experiences of pregnancy,

birth and early motherhood, from which she will present work during the conference.


In the 21st century, we are facing what can rightly be referred to as a mass disability amongst womb-bearers. Fewer of them than ever before can now do what has come naturally to the vast majority of them since the beginning of humankind; to trust their bodies to give birth and keep their infants alive. The use of life-saving emergency options has become the norm. Most women have come to accept the use of hard drugs and metal instruments as a routine practice in birth. It is no longer breastmilk, but expensive synthetic powder solutions that keep most of our babies alive, in spite of the proven health implications of this. At the same time, perinatal mental health issues are on the rise and suicide has become the main cause of maternal mortality. While the discourse on concepts such as ‘the mother’ and ‘gender’ continues, two important questions are often overlooked. How did we as womb-bearers come to put our fate and that of our children in the hands of a medical science which, in the grand scheme of things, is itself only in the infancy of its development? What is this loss of our ability to give birth and feed our children with our bodies doing to our minds? With her Wombanifesto, Mila Oshin urges all womb-bearers to take a long and hard look at the factors that may have led to this mass disability, as well as the consequences it may have for their sense of self, their meaningful relationships and their children’s development. Most importantly, Wombanifesto proposes a way forward which, amongst other things, turns to the arts as an instrument for change.

Zuzana Štefková: Mothers Artlovers Creativity and the Maternal


Zuzana Štefková has earned a Ph.D. in Art History at the Charles University, with dissertation

on Gender Aspects of Embodiment in Czech Contemporary Art. She teaches courses at the

Charles University and the Academy of Art, Architecture, and Design. She is a curator of

Artwall gallery (www.artwallgallery.cz).


The paper will examine the notion of creativity within the experience of mothering. As a

case study, the proposed paper will assess creative activities of a loosely knitted group of

mothers who started to organize themselves in Prague and Brno under the name of Mothers Artlovers. The initiative started in December 2016 as a support group for mother artists and

it is composed of predominantly visual artists, but also theoreticians, curators, filmmakers,

activists – creative women for whom art is vital and whose interest in work did not stop with

motherhood. In the paper, I seek to problematize the artificial distinction between art on the one hand and pastime activity or playing with children on the other. Based on a qualitative research and in-depth interviews conducted with mother artists, the paper will scrutinize challenges induced by this division of professional art and creating with and for children. Arguing for a more inclusive concept of creativity, the paper will attempt to dismantle this dichotomy that is particularly painfully experienced by mother artists trying to keep their art careers afloat while handling demands posed by their maternal role.

11.30-12.30: Practice (Chair Martina Mullaney)

Esther Windsor: Elemental Passions (after Luce Irigaray)


Esther Windsor is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Birmingham School of Art, teaching Studio Practice, Contemporary Philosophy and Aesthetics and supervising practice-based PhD’s. Her PhD, at Kingston University, was a novel Ugly Beast and curated exhibition Your Tongue in My Mouth at Stanley Picker Gallery.


Using Jaqueline Rose’s Mothers: An essay on Love and Cruelty (2018) and Melanie Klein’s Envy and Gratitude (1975), I explore some concepts invested in mothering, drawing upon my own practice-based research, which embodies theory and lived experience of politicised subjectivity. This includes my maintenance work as a mother, academic and artist and may include story-telling, psychoanalytic theory, images or ‘Happenings’.  Here I specifically use the term maternal passion in the structural sense of the experience and not just in the biological sense: it is not impossible that through psychoanalysis, self-analysis or sublimating work, a woman can also live out her maternal passion without gestation and giving birth (through adoption, surrogate mothers and other fertility techniques to come, or on another level through care-taking, teaching, long-term relationships or in communal/community work). We have become the first civilization, which lacks a discourse on the complexity of motherhood. Kristeva, J. (2005). Motherhood Today. Gypsy V, Colloquium

Paula Chambers: Cathy Wilkes and the Green Dress: An Encounter with Maternal Materiality


Paula Chambers is an artist and arts educator, and is currently Subject Leader for Fine Art at

Leeds Arts University. Paula’s art practice is sculptural, she works with the materiality of the

feminine domestic to subvert and disrupt the social, cultural and historic understanding of

women’s ambivalent relationship to home.


In the British Pavilion for the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019, sculptor Cathy Wilkes installed

artwork and objects that were sparse, melancholic and materially resonant. Moving through

the rooms of this understated exhibition of objects made and found; it was the materials themselves that invited closer consideration, materials resonant of the intimacies of the

home and of the maternal body. In room three of the Untitled installation, one encountered

a doll figure clothed in a green dress of the kind known in 1950s Britain as a ‘house dress’,

the kind made at home and worn to cook, clean and care for children in, the kind of dress worn by women of small means, the kind of dress worn by women in images of poverty and

deprivation, like those by Walker Evans (1941) and Dorothea Lange (1939). Wilkes’ work

invokes reproductive labour and female affects of care (Sliwinska, 2020). The green dress is adorned with small paper images of children eating soup, yet the figure who wears the

dress is isolated from the smaller child-like figures who stand apart in other rooms, the

dress invoking Rozsika Parker’s (1995) maternal ambivalence. Materiality in Wilkes’

installation is resonant of the temporality and spatial uncertainty of the threshold (Meskimmon, 2019), the unstable materiality of objects at the boundaries (Boscagli, 2014).

As a sculptural object, the green dress in Wilkes’ installation inhabited the room like a

mother guarding the domestic realm, a materialisation of the history of working-class women’s ambivalent domestic experience.

Barbara Philipp: All alone in this world (Mutterseelenallein): Part 2

13.00-14.00: Labour (Chair Valerie O’Riordan)

Martina Hynan: Locating A Mother’s Touch: Cartographies of Haptic Encounters


Martina Hynan is an interdisciplinary PhD researcher with the Centre for Irish Studies, NUI Galway. Her work uses critical posthuman feminist new materialism to map cartographies of birthplace in Ireland. She is also a maternal artist curator and member of the Elephant Collective birth activist group.  The Elephant Collective: https://www.facebook.com/The-Elephant-Collective-1662667163990925  Martina Hynan: http://www.martinahynan.com

MANNING, E. 2007. Politics of Touch Sense, Movement, Sovereignty, Minneapolis, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press.


“Touch is an event” (Manning, 2007:141)

We have lost touch with the entanglement of birthing bodies with birthplace. The event of birth is an embodied and embedded event that includes multiple forms of touch. This paper draws on feminist new materialist theorists and artists’ work on touch in relation to childbirth and motherhood.  The building in the background of the photograph used to promote this CFP is the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, which is still a maternity hospital. The politics of birth in Ireland, as elsewhere, is mired in the legacy of the institutionalisation of birthing bodies with the colonisation of land. Childbirth is a more-than-human event and therefore the entanglements of birthing bodies, matter and place are enmeshed. Multiple forms of touch, e.g. human-to-human, other-than-human and more-than-human touch coalesce during the event of birth. Under Covid-19 restrictions pregnant people are also experiencing touch hunger. The pandemic has highlighted the limits of this institutional system. In Ireland, ‘In Our Shoes-Covid Pregnancy’ campaign was set up to challenge maternity restrictions. This campaign will be featured alongside the work of women artists. The campaign name is a nod to the artist’s campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment referendum, 2018. The rupture of the experience of birth from the place where it occurs has led to a displacement of mothers, this uncoupling has fractured the event of birth. Exploring touch as an event through a haptic vitalist new materialist lens reimagines a mother’s touch as the entanglement of birthing body, matter with place.

Elizabeth M. Claffey: Adam Smith only succeeded in answering half of the fundamental question of economics. He didn’t get his dinner only because the tradesmen served their own self-interests through trade. Adam Smith got his dinner because his mother made sure it was on the table every evening.

— Katrine Marçal


Elizabeth M. Claffey is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Indiana University in Bloomington and a 2019-20 Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. She has an MFA in Studio Art from Texas Woman’s University, where she also earned a Graduate Certif­icate in Women’s Studies. In 2012, she was awarded a William J. Fulbright Fellowship. Elizabeth’s work focuses identity, kinship, isolation, issues of the body, family history, and cultural/institutional practices. Among others, her work has been recognized by PDN Magazine, Center Santa Fe, The Eddie Adams Workshop, and Don’t Take Pictures Magazine.


My creative research visualizes inner lives and cultural contexts to provoke in-depth conversations. Through photographic practices, I seek to leverage the power of exhibition, publication, and lecturing to create spaces of dialogue and reflection for people, stories, and expressions that are often marginalized within the public sphere. If given the opportunity to present at The Missing Mother online conference, my talk will address issues of motherhood and sexuality, technology/consumerism and motherhood, and labor—the multidimensional meaning of the word as in, for instance, both childbirth and economics. My talk will be grounded in a series of questions that are currently driving my practice: how is women’s labor rendered invisible? Who profits from women’s labor and through what means? Who defines knowledge and how can normative modes of communication be revealed and challenged? What is lost and who is marginalized when knowledge is narrowly defined as being solely intellectual, of the mind rather than of the body? What if neurodivergent, Womxn, Black, Indigenous, People of the Global Majority, and/or Queer peoples defined knowledge and the modes through which we communicate and value it?  I will share works from several portfolios including, The Ordinary and the Domestic, Matrilinear, and Darkness and Nothing More. Lastly, I will present in-progress work from my newly developing project Wealth of Nations: Labor, Visibility, and Ownership. Through a series of sculptural books and appropriated imagery, this work will challenge canonical texts, normative modes of communication, and the visualization of women’s labor and bodies through a male lens.

Shweta Bist:  The Withering Artist in Mother


Shweta Bistis a visual artist and freelance photographer based in New York City. Her interest lies in the exploration of the emotional dynamics in familial relationships and how that shapes our human experience. Shweta’s work is greatly influenced by her experience as a mother, and the transformative impact it continues to have on her view of the world.


It was not before I became a mother that I truly came to appreciate how challenging it is for care-givers to maintain an individual identity while having to give much of themselves away. It was only when I decided to step back from some of the extensive mothering that I was doing, was I able to pay some attention to my own needs. I am a visual artist and photographer in New York City. Although both facets, mother and artist, fuel each other, there is a perpetual tug of war between the two for time and attention. Recently, the Pandemic has strained this already precarious balance, by stacking the odds heavily against the artist who relentlessly scavenges for little windows of time to breathe and create. Covid-19 is emptying mothers out like never before. The demands from mothering have skyrocketed, and mothers’ opportunities for an ‘out’, have depleted. Through my essay, I seek to share how I have felt invisible in my role as a mother, and the challenges I have faced in my creative practice within the context of my maternal life. In doing so, I hope to impress upon the critical need to support mothers in various spheres of their socio-economic lives, so they may have the opportunity to explore the full potential of their abilities.



Andrea O’Reilly: Matricentric Feminism: Beyond Gender and Towards Resistance and Inclusive Mothering

(introduction Martina Mullaney)

Published April 20/21; 2nd edition of Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Identity, and Practice with new Preface” Matricentric Feminism: Beyond Gender and Towards Resistant and Inclusive Mothering,” 

Book may be ordered for 30% off with coupon code MOTHERS


The new preface explores four central concerns of matricentric feminism: the specific political import and intent of racialized women’s motherwork, the radical queering of empowered mothering, the real and prevalent oppressions of motherwork, and the foregrounding of mothers and mothering in feminism. In these discussions, the prefaces considers how matricentric feminism in positioning mothering as a verb affords a gender-neutral understanding of motherwork and allows for an appreciation of how motherwork is deeply gendered and how this may be challenged and changed through empowered mothering The book argues that the category of mother is distinct from the category of woman, and that many of the problems mothers face-social, economic, political, cultural, psychological, and so forth-are specific to women’s role and identity as mothers. Indeed, mothers are oppressed under patriarchy as women and as mothers. Consequently, mothers need a feminism of their own, one that positions mothers’ concerns as the starting point for a theory and politic of empowerment. O’Reilly terms this new mode of feminism matricentic feminism and the book explores how it is represented and experienced in theory, activism, and practice. The chapter on maternal theory examines the central theoretical concepts of maternal scholarship while the chapter on activism considers the twenty-first century motherhood movement. Feminist mothering is likewise examined as the specific practice of matricentric feminism and this chapter discusses various theories and strategies on and for maternal empowerment. Matricentric feminism is also examined in relation to the larger field of academic feminism; here O’Reilly persuasively shows how matricentric feminism has been marginalized in academic feminism and considers the reasons for such exclusion and how such may be challenged and change

Dr. Andrea O’Reilly,
Professor, School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Coordinator, Bridging Program for Women, York University, Toronto, Canada
Publisher, Demeter Press: www.demeterpress.org
Founder and Editor-in Chief, Journal of the Motherhood Initiative: www.journalofmotherhoodiniaitive.org
2019 recipient of the Status of Women and Equity Award of Distinction from OCUFA (Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations).
Recent Book Publications:
Matricentric Feminism: Theory, Identity, Practice, 2nd Edition (2021):  http://demeterpress.org/books/matricentric-feminism-theory-activism-practice-the-2nd-edition/
Mothers, Mothering, and Covid-19: Dispatches from a Pandemic (2021): http://demeterpress.org/books/mothers-mothering-and-covid-19-dispatches-from-the-pandemic/
Feminist Parenting: Perspectives from Africa and Beyond (2020): http://demeterpress.org/books/feminist-parenting-perspectives-from-africa-and-beyond/
Routledge Companion to Motherhood (2019): https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-Motherhood/Hallstein-OReilly-Giles/p/book/9781138052413
Feminist Perspectives on Young Mothers and Young Mothering (2019):  http://demeterpress.org/books/feminist-perspectives-on-young-mothers-and-young-mothering
2019/20 articles/chapters:
“Breaking the Rules of Normative Motherhood and Family: Matrifocality, Motherlines, and The Mask of Motherhood in Sally Hepworth’s The Secret Lives of Midwives and The Family Next Door”  Hecate  2019; (pub 2020) https://hecate.communications-arts.uq.edu.au/hecate-issues?fbclid=IwAR0DoCc3AKRYA8R1c7LrWy6AXVksYQ2a8qv7nt7cUh7hSnEEJuwxmyD3scc
“Trying to Function in the Unfunctionable”: Mothers and COVID-19″ Journal of the Motherhood Initiative. Vol. 11.2:  2020; https://jarm.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/jarm/article/view/40588
“Redemptive Mothering: Reclamation, Absolution, and Deliverance in Emma Donoghue’s Room and The Wonder” Writing Mothers: Narrative Acts of Care, Redemption, and Transformation, 2020 ; http://demeterpress.org/books/writing-mothers-narrative-acts-of-care-redemption-and-transformation/
“‘Out of Bounds’: Maternal Regret and the Reframing of Normative Motherhood.” Intersections of mothering: Feminist accounts, 2019; https://www.routledge.com/Intersections-of-Mothering-Feminist-Accounts/Zufferey-Buchanan/p/book/9781138366268

SSHRC PEG GRANT RESEARCH 2021: Mothers and Covid-19: Care and Crisis

15.30-16.30: Stop the fucking wheel: Panellists: Martina Mullaney (Enemies of Good Art), Amy Dignam (Desperate Artwives), Paula McCloskey (A place of their own), Lesly Deschler Canossi and Zoraida Lopez-Diago (Women Picturing Revolution), Ruchika Wason Singh (AMMAA), facilitated by Woman Up! podcast presenter and artist Susan Merrick

This discussion takes place in association with Desperate Art Wives. It will be recorded and additionally broadcast as a special hour-long episode of the Desperate Art Wives Woman Up series of podcasts. This discussion and podcast marks more than 10 years of maternal activism.

Susan Merrick – Facilitator of the panel talk
Susan Merrick is a multi-disciplinary Artist and a self-titled serial collaborator. She is a northern feminist who lives in the south, is interested in conversations, language and power, in questioning whose voices are heard, and in the access and spaces that can challenge or facilitate this. With a background in BSL/English Interpreting and Sociology she makes work, projects and collaborations exploring these themes, utilising a context-based mix of social engagement, live art, public installations, filmmaking and photography.
Susan has an MA in Fine Art from UCA Farnham and is presenter of the Woman Up! Podcast in collaboration with Desperate Artwives and the Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths. She is an associate Artist with Chapel Arts Studios and is the recipient of ACE and National Project Grants for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020/21. Susan’s current project Conversations with Aldershot is a community collaboration in her home town of Aldershot, gathering stories and thoughts about resident’s experiences of lockdown. With a focus on sharing often ‘hidden’ (socially or politically) voices, the project is working with many different local organisations. It will become an archive of the town and the formats in which the stories are shared are being co-created with a small group of local women.
   IG: @susan_merrick
    FB: Susan B Merrick

Women Picturing Revolution
Through leading seminars and curating panels Women Picturing Revolution (WPR) co-creators Lesly Deschler Canossi and Zoraida Lopez-Diago are reclaiming and retelling history in a manner that is both radical and necessary. By highlighting the work of female photographers who have documented conflicts, crises, and revolution in private realms and public spaces, WPR sheds light on personal and political experiences that are often overlooked or underrepresented. From fine art photography made as a response to forced silence, oppression, and the inability to act, to well-known visual journalists documenting upheaval, Lesly and Zoraida, along with WPR participants, examine not only the photographs but also the conditions under which women make images.  Their current book project Another Way of Knowing: Representations of Black Motherhood in Contemporary Photography will be published in Spring 2021 by Leuven University Press<https://lup.be/>.
Lesly Deschler Canossi
is co-creator of <http://www.deschlercanossi.com/> Women Picturing Revolution<https://www.womenpicturingrevolution.com/> and faculty at the International Center of Photography (ICP)<http://www.deschlercanossi.com/&gt;. She holds an MFA in Photography from Maryland Institute College of Art. Her seminars Navigating the Domestic: Mother As Artist and Into the Fold: Artist/Mother Identity reveal the deep and minimized history of mother artists while providing critical support to contemporary image-makers. Lesly’s own photographic practice explores the domestic space as a site of negotiation and her book Domestic Negotiations was published by ICP Edu in 2018. Lesly is currently working on a lens-based project addressing the confidence gap of girls age nine to eleven; the age at which American girls peak in confidence.
Zoraida Lopez-Diago is co-creator of Women Picturing Revolution; her work stands at the intersection of social, visual, and environmental justice. Zoraida’s images have been exhibited throughout the U.S. and Latin America and she has lectured at institutions including Harvard University and Columbia University. Zoraida has documented incarnated women at Pedregal, a maximum-security prison in Medellin, Colombia, and photographed undocumented farmworkers, who escaped civil war, and their families currently living in New York. In 2014, she co-curated Women as Witness, an exhibition revealing how women document survival, and in 2015, Zoraida was the assistant curator of Picturing Black Girlhood, the first-ever exhibition highlighting contributions of Black girls in the US.  Most recently, she served as a judge for FotoEvidence’s W Award and is currently working on a photo essay about Blackness in Nature for Duquesne University Press.

Ruchika Wason Singh
Ruchika Wason Singh is a visual artist, art educator and independent researcher based in Delhi. She has widely exhibited in South -East Asia and also participated in international artist residency programs. Ruchika has been a U.G.C doctoral research fellow at the University of Delhi. In 2016 she initiated A.M.M.A.A.- The Archive for Mapping Mother Artists in Asia. She is also involved in organizing alternative art activities at Critical Dialogues Art Space, Delhi. Ruchika has been an Associate Professor at College of Art, New Delhi, and a Visiting Faculty at Ashoka University, Sonipat, India. She is an External Member of CORTH, University of Sussex and a Member of the Advisory Circle of the Performance and the Maternal Project.

Amy Dignam
Amy Dignam is a visual artist and feminist. Her work focuses on the maternal experience and body, domestic disorder, power and dysfunction. Shortlisted for the Birth Rites collection in 2017 her work has been shown internationally. Amy is the founder of Desperate Artwives set up in 2011 as a way to give support and a platform to womxn artists who are also mothers/parents/carers. In 2019 in collaboration with Artist Susan Merrick and supported by the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmith College, Amy launched the Woman Up! podcast. In this channel the group collect conversations with activists, academics, writers, art critics, feminist historians etc who are also womxn with caring responsibilities whilst offering a free long-form content for other people to access.
More recently, drawn on her own experience of perinatal mental health, Amy became more involved and active within the maternal environment working in various roles supporting pregnant women, pregnant people and new mothers/parents. She became a Hypnobirthing teacher, birth and post partum doula. She is Maternity Voices Partnership co-chair at Chelsea and Westminster and West Middlesex hospitals and recently founded the ‘Play the Race Card’ project. She is also one of the founding Mothers of the Maternal Journal.
Last but not least, she is the mother of 3 children who are the inspiration and influencers of all she does.

Dr Paula McCloskey

Dr Paula Mc Closkey is an artist and artistic researcher.  Her transdisciplinary, collaborative research in contemporary art practice, critical theory and social engagement sits at the intersections of art, geopolitics/climate and maternity/kinship. Paula is co-founder with Dr Sam Vardy and their four children of ; a place, of their own. (2010 –  present), an art and spatial research practice, working on transdisciplinary collaborative research projects that critically investigate entanglements of family, geopolitics, art, science and the climate crises. All of these areas of work take an intersectional approach and feminist praxis to co-producing site-specific performances, films, installations and publications. Paula is Researcher, School of Arts, Digital and Material Artistic Research Centre, Derby University, UK.

16.30: Closing Remarks: Conference Organisers

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