Countless myths and fairytales have been written about motherhood, passed down from mother to daughter, instilling maternal archetypes in generations of women. The members of the artist group Sheva look at this delicate subject and examine what type of “mother” all these myths are trying to shape. The motherhood that emerges from them is dark and complex, completely different from the soft and perfect mother that ads keep trying to sell us. Against the mythological story, the artists reflect on the personal story that every mother tells herself, about parenthood and about her relationship with her children. This is a two-way mirror that breaks down the social constructs around motherhood as it has been formed by patriarchal culture, while using the perspective of the mythical story to take down the personal defenses that each mother puts up around this sensitive and private subject.
Sheva members ask how the stories of these primordial mothers, mentioned in prayers, stories, and songs, affect mothers to this day. Perhaps the story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the reason we have come to accept suffering as a natural part of motherhood, a “punishment” we have inherited from Eve. Then there is also the kind of motherhood as portrayed by the Four Matriarchs, the founders of the Jewish dynasty: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, who represent femininity desperate for motherhood, who fight vehemently to protect their children’s birthrights. Manipulative mothers who have no compassion for the children of other mothers. What is the parenting lesson that mythology conveys through myths such as that of the mother and goddess Demeter, a mother who is a force of nature, and withers after her daughter Persephone is abducted and taken to the underworld, and to what extent does it feed into maternal angsts to this day? The natural element of the maternal instinct as represented by the figure of the she-wolf that breastfeeds Remus and Romulus, which overcomes even the alienness of adopted babies of different species and gives them her wild nature.
Each of the featured artists unravels a tangled knot of feelings and private history between them and their children. They bravely look at their individual motherhood from the archetypal perspective, drawing on the mythological story, which offers the distance needed in order to take on such a sensitive subject. Every wrong pull might set in motion a chain reaction that triggers memories of their relationship with their own mothers, while also raising questions about the type of parenting their children inherent from them.
The discussion that emerged in recent years on the subject of motherhood, allows Sheva members to expand and deepen their honest examination of their battles, victories, and compromises surrounding this essential element of their identity as artist mothers. By examining their dynamic relationship with their children and the processes they experienced over the years, they can chip away at the many stigmas surrounding the issue. To present the complexity and different shades of motherhood while raising awareness to the underlying archetypes and myths that inform our behavior.
Aya Sarig uses pages taken from books, brochures, and sewing patterns, to create blocks of sorts, in different shades of paper that indicate their age. She then uses these blocks to build walls, a house “on boxes” that may be under construction, in the process of becoming a complete, stable structure, or possibly disintegrating in a process that will lead to its destruction. In this work, Aya touches on the family mythology as it is passed through the generations, the principles and stories that guide us, which we inherited from our parents and are hidden in the parental subconscious, the cod in the base of our “operation manual.” The wall presents the viewer with a question, asking us to contemplate our conditioning and beliefs without any possibility to sidestep the issue. In front of the wall, the stories we told ourselves about our identity within the family come to light. What part of this story did we write ourselves, what part was written by others and what part was dictated to us by society?
In her paintings, Anat Greenberg portrays a symbiotic parent-child relationship. In them, she expresses how the mother’s body image changes so that her child becomes an extension of her body, creating a Chimera-like creature with four arms and two heads. The artist captures a feeling that many mothers know very well, the expropriation of her body autonomy and individuality for the sake of nurturing the future generation. The intwined physical embrace gives the offspring security and warmth, but its price is expressed in the blurred boundary between the bodies and the burden the mother must carry. It seems that even after the separateness between mother and child develops and the body regains its autonomy, a “umbilical cord” still connects them, refusing to be cut. Indeed, the mother cannot detach herself from this connection, which takes over and demands all of her, it blinds her so that she is unable to see the offspring as they are. This will always be the mother’s blind spot.
Lili’s she-wolf howls at the wind, surrounded by her wild cubs, each of them with their own markings and character expressed in the attributes they hold. Their structural base, which consists of shopping carts wheels, carries many meanings: mobility and agility on the one hand and precarious instability on the other. Their hollow stomach allows them to carry things and hold them inside. Many myths have been associated with the maternal qualities of the she-wolf and her feral and devoted type of parenting, from the Capitoline she-wolf who adopted Remus and Romulus to the she-wolf who raised Mowgli. But she is also a “stepmother” who can pose danger to orphaned cubs.
Perhaps it is the wild, independent she-wolf from Maureen Murdock and Clarissa Pinkola Estésand’s feminist text Women Who Run with the Wolves. The blood-red stains on her dress allude to the potential violence that could erupt at any minute against those around her or herself.
Rosa Ben Arie
Rosa creates a plant that spreads and spills out of a lab beaker, like a biological experiment gone wrong. The mother plant sends hairy tendrils in every direction, taking over its surroundings and disseminating its fruits to other lab containers. The piece draws inspiration from the artist’s past as a lab researcher at the Volcani Center, Israel's national agricultural R&D center that develops new plant varieties. With its extended roots, the luscious plant looks as though it is searching for something it has lost, like the goddess of grain and harvest, who is desperately looking for her daughter Persephone, who was abducted to the underworld. Rosa challenges the notion of parenthood as natural and instinctive, presenting the possibility of parenthood as a culturally modified product.
The collaboration of Rosa and Lili, on the film A Story in Two Voices, brings us back to the wolf motif through the fairytale of Little Red Riding Hood. They read the familiar story simultaneously in Hebrew and Spanish while dressed in girls’ school uniform, like the ones they had to wear growing up in Argentina and Uruguay. The well-known story, which has been reproduced and translated into numerous languages, attests just how widespread the influence of myths is and how they transcend borders between continents, cultures, and languages.
Dalia Hay Acco
Dalia explores the primal architypes that lie beneath the façade of modern parenthood, our fears, anxieties and resentments. She revisits classic myths from the parental perspective, and recounts the story of Icarus from the father’s point of view: Dedalus, who watches his son as he ignores his warning about the wax wings he had made him, and plummets to his death – a story of the parent’s guilt and sense of responsibility for his offspring, and the tragedy of helplessly witnessing his fall.
Dalia confronts the figure of Eve, who obediently accepts her punishment, her body shackled to her biological role to birth the next generation. Dalia’s triptych is accompanied by a coiling serpent that dangles to the gallery floor, perhaps an umbilical cord or a phallus (That brings her the “sorrow” of childbirth). She is tied to her maternal role as an angel meant to protect her children, but in fact remains helpless. The earthly mother is no angel and certainly no goddess, even if society tells us she should be.