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ISSUE 121 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/30/2007

Solinger explores motherhood

By Lyndel Owens
News Editor

Friday, November 30, 2007

The 66 framed black-and-white images lining the walls of Flatten Art Museum demand recognition for their photographic brilliance and for their compelling portrayal of various manifestations of motherhood in America.

Each photo in the exhibit "Beggars and Choosers: Motherhood is Not a Class Privilege in America" humanely captures women often derided as "too young, too poor, too gay, too disabled, too non-white or too foreign" to be a valid mother. As a collective, the images impart a powerful testimony to the politicization of motherhood as it showcases women's struggle against societal assumptions and structural violence.

Each piece pushes the viewer to question the basis for their premature conclusions about who belongs in the binary categories of "good" and "bad" mothers. Not only do the images buck stereotypical associations between class status and responsible mothering, but written information explaining the exhibit and chronicling changes in welfare and cultural expectations is displayed on the museum's pillars.

In addition to this text, some of the subject's commentary is provided alongside their image -- an effective element that complements the photo's story.

Susan Meiselas' richly toned portrait, "Mitzi," features a half-nude carnival stripper costumed in a jeweled headdress and feathered leotard seductively grasping a stage curtain. The accompanying statement conveys Mitzi's frustration toward those who doubt her ability to raise her daughter due to her profession, "[This woman] ... was saying we shouldn't be located next to a kiddie merry-go-round. She said, I'm a mother,' And I grabbed the mike and I said, "I'm a mother myself.'"

The photos were compiled by renowned scholar and historian Rickie Solinger and premiered as a group in 2002. Since then, the exhibit has been featured in more than 25 venues throughout the nation. While the main consistency between the pieces is their shared message, their individual style and subject matter differ. Even the wide range in dates, 1983 to 2000, between images that convey similar points evinces the reoccurring trends women on "edges" contend with.

Some of the problems consistently emphasized were poor structural support in the form of lackluster welfare and day-care and society's efforts to hyphenate their motherhood by primarily regarding them as "young mothers," "single mothers" or "poor mothers."

In their statements many of the women expressed awareness that they were regarded as second-class mothers but chose not to internalize that stereotype. In Anne Hamersky's tender "Mary and Mika," Mary is perched in her wheelchair dressing her squirming toddler daughter Mika. "I'm not a disabled mother, I'm just a mother," Mary said.

The exhibit premiered Friday evening, Nov. 10 and will run though Wednesday, Dec. 12. Of the seven shows Flaten Art Museum will hold this year, museum director Jill Ewald believes this grouping is one of its more political displays.

"The show takes a stand against poverty and the political and economic powerlessness that accompanies those who live on the fringes," she says. "It explores the same depths of emotions that mothers everywhere feel."

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