The Eight Most Inspiring Mothers in Contemporary Art
Happy Mother's Day
Even today, female artists are marginalized, with curators feeling it necessary to stage exhibitions like Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, to give women working in the arts their time in the sun. For women, it's an uphill battle to be recognized in a field that already requires a tremendous amount of discipline, and determination. But imagine committing to your craft, trying to reveal your creative vision to the world with the same gusto while nine months pregnant, nursing, and raising children? That's exactly what some of the most prominent artists working today have done, earning them a spot on this roundup: The most inspiring mothers in contemporary art history.
We know her as an activist, widow and collaborator of John Lennon, and musician, but Yoko Ono was first and foremost a pioneer of conceptual art. While doing all this, she raised Sean Lennon as an equally inspiring creative. The two work on projects and causes together, like their most recent rally cry against fracking which led to their movement, Artists Against Fracking, and the entertaining video above.
In her short time on Earth, Margaret Kilgallen helped define San Francisco's "Mission School" aesthetic, and subsequently inspired a new wave of art making with an allegiance to the streets. At just 33, she was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant. She opted out of chemotherapy to carry her pregnancy through and died three weeks after the birth of her daughter, with husband and collaborator Barry McGee.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Lorna Simpson revolutionized the field of conceptual photography with work that challenges our notions of gender, identity, race, culture, and sexuality. In 1993, Simpson was the first African American artist to show in the important Venice Biennale. She was already established in her career when she had her daughter at age 38.
Lorna and Zora Simpson 2007 Gap ad
Shirin Neshat explores women's roles and ideas of femininity in her home country of Iran and in relation to Islamic fundamentalism. She does this by creating arresting imagery—often incorporating Persian poetry and calligraphy—and through film, and performance. Along with raising a son, she's also been vocal politically: she was involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and in 2009 she joined a three-day hunger strike to protest the Iranian presidential election that year.
Image via Barbara Gladstone Gallery
Twitter wasn't even conceived when Jenny Holzer became know for her "truisms"—short statements that capture powerful sentiments like "IT IS MAN'S FATE TO OUTSMART HIMSELF." In 1989 she became the first female artist chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, and that same year, the birth of her first child inspired her piece "Laments," one of the more personal and angst-ridden pieces about motherhood, violation, pain, torture, and death. She clearly strives to achieve a healthy work/life balance—recently she took to Twitter with another truism: MOTHERS SHOULDN'T MAKE TOO MANY SACRIFICES.
Image via Jenny Holzer
In 2005 Miranda July's film Me and You and Everyone We Know captured the world's attention. Since then, she's continued to makes movies, stage performances, and examine life's absurd moments in the most clever ways. She often collaborates with her filmmaker husband Mike Mills on art and in life: last year the two had their first child together.
Before she became known as Lena Dunham's mother, Laurie Simmons was most known for her prolific art career. Simmons stages photographs and films with paper dolls, finger puppets, and ventriloquists, creating fantasy dollhouse worlds. Her work helped inspire her daughter's breakthrough film Tiny Furniture, that Simmons also starred in.
Lena Dunham portrait via Laurie Simmons
Annie Leibovitz has photographed everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Rihanna to the Obama Family. And she's done this all while raising three children, the last of which she had at age 52.
Annie Leibovitz portrait with Demi Moore image via Wikimedia Commons