September 21, 2019

Bringing up baby: making motherhood work in the art world

“Is the art world compatible with parenting?” Thats the question up for discussion in Between Production and Reproduction: Career and Motherhood in the Art World, a talk taking place at Art Basel as part of the fairs Conversations programme. Whatever conclusion the panellists draw, motherhood is not a topic to be waded into lightly. As Victoria Siddall, the director of Frieze fairs and mother of one, says when it comes to having children: “There is no right or wrong way to do it.” Or indeed not to do it.

But the subject of being a good artist and a good mother is even more contentious. In 2014, Tracey Emin told Red magazine that she would not be making art if she were a mother, as she would refuse to compromise: “I would have been either 100% mother, or 100% artist.” She added: “There are good artists who have children, of course there are. They are called men. Its hard for women.” Two years later, Marina Abramović told the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that she had three abortions, “because I was certain it would be a disaster for my work [to have children]. One only has limited energy in the body, and I would have had to divide it.” She added that it is “the reason why women arent as successful as men in the art world”.

But many disagree with these uncompromising views. In response to Abramovićs comments, Siddall says: “Obviously, she was talking from her own experience, but where it becomes very dangerous is when there is a dialogue that suggests you cant be a good artist and have a child—its just not true.” As Siddall points out, many of the most successful living female artists are also mothers: Cecily Brown, Jenny Saville, Phyllida Barlow and Njideka Akunyili Crosby to name just a few.

Here, four women—a fair director, a dealer and two artists—explain how they make it work.

• Between Production and Reproduction: Career and Motherhood in the Art World, 13 June, 10-11.30am, Hall 1 auditorium, Messeplatz

Rana Begum
Photo: Philip White

Rana Begum, artist

Two children, aged seven and ten

When Rana Begum decided to have children, she had to take the plunge: “There was no guarantee of me earning a good enough living. I just had to trust that Id find a way to survive.” Begums path has not been easy—she suffered post-natal depression and got divorced just after her second child was born. She did not take maternity leave: “I knew I wouldnt be able to stop working; it is just the way it is for artists.”

Her galleries were supportive: “Most [of the ones] I work with are run by women, so theyre careful about the pressure theyre putting me under.” However, she mentions two successful artists whove wanted to have children but worry about the impact it will have on their careers. “Thats not really a concern for men.”

Perhaps surprisingly for a single mother, Begum does numerous residencies—but only those that can accommodate children. Her son Jabril was only a year old during her Delfina Foundation residency in 2009 in Beirut, but Begum says the foundation “was amazing and managed to find a nursery that could take Jabril, and a flat big enough for us all”.

While having children has not changed her creative practice, it has enforced a better work-life balance, although she says: “It is difficult to a find a balance between creating/working and spending time with children, particularly in the creative industry as you are working more hours to survive financially.”

Dominique Lévy
Photo: Zenith Richards

Dominique Lévy, art dealer

Two children, aged nine and 16

Dominique Lévy made the decision to have children on 11 September 2001. “I was in Tribeca and saw people jumping from the Twin Towers,” she says. “Then I ran north and jumped on a bus full of kids being removed from school. They all looked so scared. That day, I decided: Im going to have a child.”

At the time, Lévy was running Christies private sales department in New York. “I really felt that when I got pregnant, I was pushed aside—maybe wrongly so. But I left almost immediately after giving birth.” It was hard, she says: “I couldnt get my US visa renewed [Lévy is Swiss], and I was a young mother setting up a business.”

Her family situation, she says, is unconventional—Lévy recently separated from her partner of 18 years, the film producer Dorothy Berwin, with whom she is raising her two sons, and their father is an old friend of Lévys. Both, she says, remain “very involved in the kids lives”.

Difficulties arise “when a school play clashes with an auction, or a client is in town at the same time as a parent-teacher meeting,” but, Lévy says, “that is when being in a partnership is great because I can say, Brett [Gorvy, her business partner], you know what, I have to go.”

Lévy travels frequently, but keeps trips short and always takes her youngest son to school. “Its hard to be a mother and have a career. Its much easier for a man,” she says. “Any of the big guys can jump on a plane at a moments notice because they have their wives at home looking after the children. I cannot.”

Helen Benigson
Courtesy of the artist

Helen Benigson, artist

Two children, aged three and seven months

Helen Benigsons two pregnancies have formed the subject of her PhD at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, recorded in video and performance pieces, some of which will be shown at Londons Roman Road gallery this month.

“It felt a bit extreme to propose it as a topic before I knew I was actually pregnant. But I always knew I wanted it to be the subject,” Benigson says. She is not represented by a gallery and says: “Doing a PhD as a female artist is quite amazing because its one of the only times, apart from if you teach, when youre paid maternity leave—and you get paid to do the PhD.”

Benigson now gets calls every week from other female artists thinking about becoming pregnant, asking if they should do a PhD. “I think women are realising its a goodRead More – Source

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