Since the birth of her child in 2012, political artist Angela Gbemisola has been negotiating the overwhelming world of motherhood with tenacity and bravery. In new exhibition Bundle of Joy: Untold Tales of Motherhood and Oppressionher work subverts the cosy imagery associated with Mums to reveal the stark truths facing mothers in the UK today.
Advance viewings of the pieces have generated responses such as, "I thought I was alone in feeling trapped by motherhood," and, "Sadly it is not something I would ever talk about in real life for fear of being judged as a bad mum". These are precisely the feelings Gbemisola is looking to highlight with her work, as she believes:
"Women are made to feel guilty for their perceived shortcomings, when in fact this government's economic and political decisions effectively mean they have been abandoned by the State."
Image courtesy of Angela Gbemisola
Mothers are at an increased risk of depression, discrimination at work and domestic violence, as they also juggle the responsibilities of raising children, yet these issues can all be addressed and remedied through better support within communities, and crucially with investment from the government.
However, while several European countries make the Top 10 of places worldwide to be a mother, according to a report from Save the Children last year improvements to the ways in which mothers are treated in the UK do not appear to be a government priority.
- Recent research by The Fawcett Society shows that mothers are routinely discriminated against in the workplace.
- There are around 70,000 cases of postnatal depression, for which there is inadequate support, as demonstrated by the tragic death of Emma Cadywould in 2011 whose family are petitioning the NHS to do more to help mothers. Half of the instances of post natal depression are never reported.
- In addition for those mothers in dangerous domestic situations, there are fewer safe places as charities like Refuge face devastating funding cuts and the CPS and police fail to protect the women doing all they can to raise the next generation.
- While the government's infamous cuts are affecting women more harshly across the job market overall, benefits and public services.
Image courtesy of Angela Gbemisola
Women are speaking out in ever greater numbers about their experiences, and work such as Gbemisola's is crucial in exposing the prejudices and wrongs that all mothers face. Increasingly, articles and commentary demystifying motherhood either with humour or hard facts have been making great copy in blogs, magazines and broadsheets, yet real changes to the daily lives of women must be prioritised by the government. With fair employment laws, affordable childcare, robust support from health services, and a commitment to keeping women safe from violence, every UK mother would be a deal happier. Are these really such luxurious concessions to demand? As we continue to live in a society where these essential needs remain out of reach, must we concede that basic health and safety are too much to expect our government to provide?
Despite being overcome with feelings of isolation during her child's first year, Angela Gbemisola has been motivated by her difficult experiences to produce this affecting series of images. Held in a child-friendly former nursery space, and with an open invitation to mothers to attend, she is creating an exhibition that doesn't just visually depict the injustices she and all UK mothers face. On 10th and 17th she and a local mother's group will meet to share their experiences of motherhood, and welcome other mothers to their conversations. Those wishing to attend should express interest on the event page. By this activism in action, she and her peers are creating an essential support network that wouldn't otherwise exist. With online networks such as Mumsnet increasing in influence, and greater public awareness of the challenges faced by mothers, the need for societal change grows ever more urgent. As Gbemisola herself states:
"This is more than a series of similar personal stories and individual unique experiences: this is political."
from 10th - 24th September 2014
Holy Trinity Parish Church, Tottenham N15 4GZ