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The missing mother: how can art works of and on maternity transcend their own audience?

Mullaney, M. (2022) The missing mother: how can art works of and on maternity transcend their own audience? PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00115540


This Ph.D. encompasses three components: a thesis made up of two volumes, a subjective rant titled The Missing Mother, (Volume 1) with supporting document (Volume 2) and a body of work titled Usually she is disappointed. The thesis identifies the mother as missing from the canon that is feminism and art history, traced through the anthologies, conferences, and group exhibitions dedicated to feminism and art. Where maternity is included, Mary Kelly and Post-Partum Document dominate. Due to the exclusion of maternal art not only from what is considered to be the art and feminist canon, art and writing on maternity operates in spaces and initiatives dedicated to the subject, a form of feminist separatism by default. In the contemporary art world of exhibitions, writing, critique, in commercial and publicly funded art contexts, maternal art must seek its own opportunities, as maternity rarely features in mainstream contemporary art spaces. I ask how the art on and of maternity might transcend its own audience, formed and exhibited in the spaces dedicated to maternity only. Through research and practice I explore the absence of the mother from feminism and art history, asking how contemporary art on maternity, and maternal experiences might integrate with other genres to gain entry to the conventional spaces of art practice and writing. Considering the social (O’Reilly), psychic (Irigaray), and symbolic (Muraro), order of the mother, the Missing Mother thesis and artworks of Usually she is disappointed are interconnected as writing became a form of practice. I challenge established forms of art on maternity moving beyond body-centric essentially determinate art where the maternal experience is explicit in the work, to adopt activist, social, and political manifestations. I make reference to and problematise the patriarchal nature of language to refigure the mother as a political and social experience, one suppressed by a neoliberalism that isolates mothers socially, creatively, and intellectually. Writing and practice experiment with language, formed into angry rants. The art works employ styles derived from the former feminist revolutionary aesthetics of second wave feminist practices of the 1970s.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Garfield, R.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Arts and Communication Design
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Art
ID Code:115540
Date on Title Page:October 2020


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