Aug 2

The Milkscapes Project: A Celebration of Motherhood

by: Guest Contributor Aimee Gilmore

As an artist, my work is a constant meditation on love, memory, and transitions of time. Channeled through the lens of motherhood, my primary artistic concerns are with the personal and collective stories that shape our everyday lives and often go overlooked. Working across mediums, my practice questions how the images, issues, and objects closely associated with motherhood inform the social-political structure of the care economy.

My commitment to and passion for making this work emerges from the birth of my first child, Maya, three months before starting my MFA program in the fall of 2015. I found myself in the throes of the fourth trimester while being a new mother, a new student, and making new work. Having the capacity to create and nourish a life was profound. The experience of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood changed me: leaving me feeling empowered in a new way, wanting to scream from the rooftops, “Look what I did!” Against the dismissive attitudes towards mothering as a subject within contemporary art, I began to explore these experiences in my graduate program studio practice. At the time, the immediate and overwhelming response to my work was a resounding “NO.” This response–disinterested at best and often negative and derogatory at worst–continued after graduation. While the criticism and lack of support was shocking at times, it wasn’t surprising. Given the patriarchal structure of our society, motherhood and caretaking is often devalued, spoken about through a language of tropes and cliches, and often trivialized and made to feel unimportant. Yet we’ve all been born, an experience germane to each and every one of us. Through my practice, I not only recognize but also honor this shared human experience, using motherhood as a motivation for making. These are my monuments to motherhood. 

 

  • Milkscape by Aimee Gilmore.

  • Milkscape by Aimee Gilmore.

  • Milkscape by Aimee Gilmore.

My practice highlights both the tension and the tenderness that materializes between mother and child through archiving the abstraction and sentimentality of the everyday. Familiarly mundane moments of daily routines, baby clothes that have long been outgrown, and abandoned stuffed animals become stand-ins for the accumulation of time and labor spent over years of caretaking. By focusing on the physical vestiges of motherhood, I viscerally relate the abstract structure of care and the unpredictable nature of time to its visible remains. This is made evident in my Milkscapes series, which I started in 2016. Made by pouring a small amount of my breast milk onto a sheet of glass (the first instance of this stemming from an accidental spill after laborious pumping), the milk dries in abstract shapes, highlighting an otherwise invisible labor. The glass is then photographed, and the image is printed large-scale by a company that fabricates billboards. Scale is crucial here. An intimate yet highly labored and nuanced exchange transforms into a sublime moment of viewing, suggesting how personal space becomes blurred or even nonexistent as a mother. By exposing the lactation process, these Milkscapes illuminate one way in which the female body is called on to perform and produce.

This series of Milkscapes will be presented in a new and exciting public format and redesigned in scale to be more aptly suited to its new environment. In partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Maternity Care Coalition, a collection of eight Milkscape flags will line the exterior of Maternity Care Coalition’s Early Head Start building in South Philadelphia for the month of August. Located at 20th and Mifflin streets, Early Head Start (EHS) is an early care and education program that provides services to pregnant women and families with children ages 0-3.  EHS serves families in their homes or childcare centers like the one in South Philadelphia. This collaboration between my artwork and the Maternity Care Coalition is a shining example of how inextricably linked policy, art, and design are to the experience of motherhood. These flags provide an opportunity to reflect on the power of the human body from a unique perspective, scale, and presentation, providing a timely and urgent starting point for so many conversations adjacent to mothering, including the necessity of the care economy, the right of choice, paid family leave, and parent-student rights. 

August is recognized as National Breastfeeding Awareness month, a month dedicated to advancing advocacy, protection, and promotion of breastfeeding to ensure that all families have the opportunity to breastfeed, which makes the timing of these Milkscape flags even more important. To further celebrate and bring awareness to the conversation,Gabriella Nelson, Associate Director of Policy at The Maternity Care Coalition, and I will host a virtual town hall to inform attendees on the landscape of reproductive healthcare through the lens of art, policy, design, and the law. At a time when so many of us live in a constant state of disappointment, consistently being left behind and ultimately let down, this collection of flags reminds us that real power and autonomy come from the ability for people to choose what’s best for them and their families.

My voice as an artist is inseparable from my identity as a life-long Philadelphian and as a mother, both integral to my practice, informing and inspiring my work in every context. I live in the house my grandparents lived in, where my mother was raised. I live on the same block that I grew up on. My daughter attends the same elementary school that both my mother and I attended. Philadelphia is integral to my lineage, and my family is deeply rooted here. To have this specific collection of works, my Milkscapes, boldly line the perimeter of a building located just blocks of where my father grew up, in partnership with an organization that commits its work to serving mothers and families in Philadelphia, fills me with pride and makes me hopeful for the future of our city.

Last updated: Aug 7, 2022

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Share Your Thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.