Today we would love to highlight our first virtual MOM Resident for 2021-2022, Rebecca Louise Clarke! Rebecca is an author, scholar and media artist who is interested in the ways mothering and memory are depicted in museums. Her book Representations of Mothers and the Maternal in Museums, to be published in early 2023 by Routledge is currently in development, and examines the ways mothering is represented in museum collections and exhibitions. As part of her research during her residency over the next nine months, Rebecca is doing an in-depth case study of the Museum of Motherhood (M.O.M). Her analysis seeks to discover ways that experiences of mothering as voiced by mothers themselves, can challenge heteronormative, stereotypical ideals about motherhood and how innovative museum practice can disrupt conventional ideals about motherhood. Those of us here at MOM wanted to let you get to know Rebecca along with her work, thoughts, and insight from our Q&A with her on September 6th, 2021. Be sure to also follow us on social media for updates from her throughout her residency with us!
Q. What led you on your path toward becoming an author, scholar and media artist interested in depictions of mothering and memory?
Storytelling came to me really early on. I remember sitting on the stool at the kitchen bench asking my Mum everything about her life and hearing her stories for hours. I was always making up rhymes and basically living in my own head for the first 18 years of my life. I hated school and rules and although I loved to learn, I was a rebel and a loner at heart. I felt that no one saw the world as I did. When I reached late high school and was able to study literature and drama with teachers that were deep thinkers, my brain woke up. I think it was because, for the first time it seemed, they asked us kids, ‘what do you think?’
Then I went to university to study art, the only thing I really felt equipped to do. I never knew how I would eventually make a living. I did the odd jobs. A friend once told me I should do waitressing because I was ‘bubbly’ (I’m not) and I laughed because I knew it would never work out with my bad attitude. When I learned more about academic lecturing as a job and the route that people had taken to get there, I knew that this could be my ticket (or as my kindred poet Charles Bukowski liked to say, ‘the gods will offer you chances. know them. take them’.…) to keep writing, to keep doing what I felt was the one thing I knew how to do, and to be able to have enough money to at least be able to pay my bills. As it turns out, the academic path has rewarded me with so many riches. It has given me opportunities to travel far and wide, to get published, and has kept me on a straight and narrow path when I could have easily fallen in the cracks. For years, my love was cinema. I learned everything I could about it. I had dabbled in philosophy and psychology, but what writers had to say about cinema was far more thought provoking to me. They looked at subjectivity, the way we see things, and analysed stories in an obsessive way that always felt natural to me. I then started curating events and exhibitions. I see now that my work has always been related to memory. I am kind of obsessed with it. I love talking to people about their memories. When I finally had a child (there was much thought and preparation before my daughter came into being) I wanted to see if I could somehow incorporate my mothering into my academic work, or at least have them co-exist in a harmonious way. It felt insincere and pointless to strive to think and talk about things that weren’t related to my current all-consuming experience of motherhood. And so, I decided to seek out mothering in my scholarly field of museum studies.
Q. What has been your most memorable experience through your work so far? Does it include crafting your soon to be published book Representations of Mothers and the Maternal in Museums?
When I have felt heard. It doesn’t happen all the time.
I presented a lecture on the representation of mothers in museums that included some of my own personal reflections. There was one academic, a mother herself who afterwards, told me she just got it. We were both emotional. I could have hugged her. It reminded me why I write and do art in the first place.
All this research will end up in a PhD based at Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology and in a book published by Routledge due out next year, Representations of Mothers and the Maternal in Museums. I’m hoping to do a lavish launch of this book, probably online, to connect with people interested in this topic and to connect like-minded people with each other in stimulating dialogue.
Q. What would you identify to be common themes in both popular or general media in their portrayal of mothers and memory?
I find that generally, at least in mainstream media and Hollywood narratives, mothers are still being placed in a Madonna/whore dichotomy. So real discussions about the complexities of mothering are not happening in that space. I believe that in-order for those stereotypical narratives to change the storytelling tools themselves need to change.
Q. Do you think themes and perceptions are changing? Are they stylistic changes or do you feel they are spurred by changes in cultural perspectives of motherhood changing?
This pandemic is a force of change that I can’t even comprehend yet. It will be interesting to see how public perception of parenting is going to be affected in the pandemic. In Australia at least, there is more discussion happening in the public sphere about the labour of care. The weight of all the lockdown restrictions we have undergone has landed on mothers’ shoulders. We are expected to supervise our children’s home learning and to also somehow earn a living . It is completely unmanageable. There will be a cost. And who do you think will pay the price? There is a lot of anger coming out because of this and I hope that some productive changes can come out of this catastrophic time.
Q. How do you think heteronormative views have affected depiction of motherhood through history? Do you think there is a visual and marked difference when a female mindset guides the narrative?
I think there is certainly a marked difference between when a carer is talking about motherhood and when someone who doesn’t know kids tries to talk about it. I had so many ideas about how kids should be raised before I had a kid. When ideals meet everyday life, things get challenging. I never took into account how much becoming a mother would change me. And not just in that superficial way that TV sitcoms would have you believe. In a physical sense, I am changed completely. These things are hard to express in words and so I am finding, sound and image are helping me articulate stuff that I don’t fully understand myself, at least consciously. Maternal scholars talk about how when a child is born, there is also the birth of a mother. And it really is like that. In early motherhood, I had to search hard to find people that I could talk to about how I was feeling. Eventually I made contact with a psychologist who specializes in perinatal psychology. And everything I mentioned, the experience of reliving my own childhood, forgotten pieces of myself re-emerging, being struck by physically painful feelings like I had been abandoned, crazy anxiety… she basically said, ‘oh yes, I see this a lot’. But of course, to voice these feelings, there is a certain amount at stake. And so, it’s easier to perform motherhood in a way that we are told is acceptable. But how exhausting it’s that?
I have found, and my fellow maternal scholars have expressed this too, that talking about my research is often met with emotional responses and at times, the topic of motherhood can be way too confronting for people. Even if you aren’t a mother yourself, well, we all had one and there is often trauma attached to mothers or the idea of motherhood.
Q. How did you find out about the Museum of Motherhood? What made you want to work with MOM?
When I began my research on depictions of motherhood in museums I searched online to see if any museums held collections exclusively devoted to the topic of motherhood. In my country, Australia, there is nothing specifically mother-related out there. Of course, there are a few collections about women and women’s career achievements. But motherhood isn’t given considerable focus. It wasn’t until I had a child that I was slapped in the face with this feeling that now I had become a Mum I had been excluded from the narrative, in so many areas of public discourse and in my day-to-day interactions. When I came across MOM online, I felt validated because other curators and artists are seeing this topic as worthy of exploring in museums and not just in a tokenistic way or in an over-the-top Hollywood narrative kind of way, but they are mining the real stuff, as voiced by mothers themselves. It’s hard to believe that currently, as least in the western world, such an act is still revolutionary. To speak of one’s own mothering is daring.
Q. What are your plans for your time here at the museum?
I’m going to be studying the MOM collections and exhibitions to better understand how this unique museum represents experiences of mothers. I’m excited to see what kinds of mother-related objects exist in the museum and to find out how artists have expressed ideas about mothering in their works.
Q. What can our readers expect to see from you in the coming months throughout your virtual residency?
I’m thinking a lot about objects of mothering, or what maternal scholar, Lisa Baraitser calls ‘maternal objects’; those things that are important to us as mothers. In my writing and media art, I’ve been playing with objects that I consider important to my mothering. It’s been an enlightening exercise. It’s funny how if I think about these objects long enough, I realise I have attributed all these qualities and personalities to them. For instance, when I was meditating on the pram we had when my child was a baby, I realised how that pram represented something so solid and comforting to me. In the early days, I was terrified of all the ways she might be harmed. It was all consuming. So, it comforted me to think about this old pram, that we found second-hand, how it had carried many children before mine and even if I felt frightened and didn’t know what I was doing, this pram did, so we’d be ok. This terror, I have found, is shared by many parents if prompted enough about their parenting. But no one really talks about it. It’s this hidden secret. I felt isolated because of this secrecy. It felt that there was an unspoken agreement that it was something we just weren’t meant to talk about. I think this feeling of isolation is what drove me to look at this topic in my work. To seek out others who had felt this way. And to also hopefully, put something out into the world that others would identify with. [Follow up interview with MoM]
Rebecca’s research is supported by the Robert Blackwood Monash University/Museums Victoria fellowship. She would like to thank her PhD supervisors: Dr Thomas Chandler, Associate Professor Joanne Evans and Dr Carla Pascoe Leahy for their support.
If you are interested in applying for a residency here at MOM, please go to our website HERE: https://bit.ly/3uRgugm to find out more. BE SURE TO HURRY! Spots have been filling FAST! But we also have opportunities for virtual residencies! We hope that future tours of the space will be available soon, but they are by appointment only in Artist Enclave Historic Kenwood: “where art lives.”