The Mother Art Prize 2020

Celebrating women artists

by Madeline DeFilippis | 8 November 2020

In late September, I received an email from my tutor, telling our class that a former student of hers was involved in a show called the ‘Mother Art Prize’. In its third year, the Mother Art Prize is run by Procreate Project and is ‘the only international open call for self-identifying women and non-binary visual artists with caring responsibilities’. The prizes associated with the exhibition are supported by major art galleries and institutions including Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Modern, Frieze London, Richard Saltoun, and more. I hear about shows associated with these museums and galleries regularly. So, why didn’t I know about the Mother Art Prize? ​ When Linda Nochlin asked, ‘why have there been no great women artists?’ in 1971, she highlighted a disturbing lack of academic and critical writing on women artists throughout history. Since then, through global Women’s Liberation movements and the work of feminist scholars, writers and activists, we in the art world have significantly improved our historical understanding of women artists in the historical record. However, women artists were, and still are, expected to also fulfil the traditional, cisgender and heteronormative role of the woman as a carer. Women artists are scrutinized much more severely than their male contemporaries for what they do in personal lives, specifically whether or not they choose to have children during their careers. ​ Claire Mander, the founder of CoLAB, an independent curatorial practice and a Courtauld alumna, is a Trustee of UK Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and was on the judging panel of the Mother Art Prize. She claims, I think rightfully so, that motherhood is a ‘taboo topic in life and in art’. ‘Even within the community of women’, she says, motherhood is an embarrassing topic to approach, and what’s more, it is ‘chronically undervalued as an occupation’. This notion of motherhood as ‘work’ has only recently (in the last fifty years) been acknowledged by the wider public. As far back as 1969, when Mierle Laderman Ukeles (b. 1939) wrote her ‘Maintenance Manifesto’. In the manifesto, Laderman Ukeles proposed an exhibition called ‘Care’, in which ‘pure maintenance’ would be exhibited as contemporary art. Confronting her work as an artist and her work as a mother, Laderman Ukeles decided to exhibit her own work as a mother and an artist as her performance art, shedding the invisibility of her work as a mother and declaring that this work was worthy of artistic value.