Yes, it’s true, mothers are people too. “Most of the literature of infant care and psychology has assumed that the process toward individuation is essentially the child’s drama, played out against and with a parent or parents who are, for better or worse, givens,” writes Adrienne Rich in the 1976 study Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. “Nothing could have prepared me for the realization that I was a mother, one of those givens, when I knew I was still in a state of uncreation myself.” Almost half a century later, in writing, art, and film about motherhood, the experience of effacement prevails, with Rich often invoked as the harbinger of a change that we have yet to see fully realized and accepted: the recognition of the mother as complex, independent, autonomous, ambivalent, yet intractably intensely bound. How to recuperate or depict this woman, who is so many women, all around us, every day?
Image: Chantal Joffe, My Mother in a Blue Shawl in her Doorway, 2020