Our mothers are our superheroes. Being a mother is a human experience that transcends every era, culture and generation. Each time period paints motherhood with a unique color, capturing the grace, courage and unconditional love of this human experience. What do contemporary pictures of motherhood reveal about our own time? The “Picturing Motherhood Now” exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art aims to answer this question.
The exhibit, which opened Saturday, runs through March 13 in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Gallery. It features 34 diverse contemporary artists who reimagine what it means to be a mother. The works address the ever-changing definition of motherhood and the social issues attached to this human experience by challenging gender and family norms, presenting the histories of slavery and highlighting the struggles of migration.
All art pieces featured were created in the last two decades to address the pressing issues and yet highlight the outstanding beauty of being a mother.
Here are a few of the artists that are on display:
When first entering the exhibit, Mequitta Ahuja’s Portrait of Her Mother is on display, created during the final months of her mother’s life. Ahuja depicts herself presenting a picture of her mother, encompassing the subject of loss through this piece. A studio surrounds her, with green-handle paint brushes, half-used paints and works of art in progress encapsulating the scene.
“I make paintings by scraping away paint, figuring something new out of loss. What’s left behind, that’s the painting,” Ahuja writes.
Stacked against the wall is a staircase of fossilized aluminum Pepsi cans from artist Kaari Upson. Titled MMDP, which stands for My Mother Drinks Pepsi, Upson highlights her mother’s daily ritual of drinking a can of Pepsi at 4 p.m. As a child, Upson revolted at the sound of her mother’s joy of drinking the soda – years later, she turned her mother’s love for Pepsi into a sculpture that explores memory, motherhood, and the psychological experience.
Dinari / All Our Mothers by Aaron Gilbert depicts a young pregnant mother applying eye makeup to her young daughter. This scene represents a sweet, intimate bonding experience between the mother, acutely grasping her daughter’s face, while the young girl holds onto the mother’s arm as she paints her eyes. The connection between mother and daughter is further emphasized by the mother’s tattoo of a mother and baby on her ribcage.
Not my Burden by Titus Kaphar depicts two African American sisters sitting on a royal purple couch with children sitting on their laps — except the children are hollow silhouettes missing from the painting. There are many interpretations of the art piece. The social and oftentimes tragic experience of motherhood is depicted in both interpretations, with the mothers fully present and in color while the children are absent from the womens’ laps.
Placed high on the wall is a sculpture many cannot miss — a large bronze spider with eight curled legs and a defined glossy abdomen. Spider IV by Louise Bourgeois is not her first spider creation (and not her only spider creation on display in the exhibit). Bourgeois made her first drawing of a spider at the age of 36 and revisited the concept in the mid ’90s. Bourgeois associated spiders with her mother because she loved to weave, having run the family tapestry workshop in France. Spiders for Bourgeois represent a number of qualities: strength, vulnerability, protection and predation, all of which she associated with herself and her mother.
Members can view the exhibit for free and member guests can view for $6. Adults can view for $12, children 11 and under are free and students 12 and older can view for $6. Visit and witness a collection of unique contemporary works depicting the art of motherhood.
Visit the Cleveland Museum of Art for more information about the exhibit.