Motherhood is a long-term process full of a myriad of complex feelings.Annie Wang
This complexity cannot be expressed solely by saccharine images of Mother and Child, nor by the image of the Mother Incarnate willingly sacrificing herself for the sake of her children.
Motherhood: Sacrifice or Creation?
Motherhood bestows life upon children, yet from the moment they depart the womb, a mother’s identity grapples with personal sacrifices: her time, spirit, social life, and the trajectory of her pre-motherhood existence. Bearing a child for nine months is universally revered, and those who’ve journeyed through pregnancy may attest to its profound significance.
Professor Chiang Chen-Yin of the Department of Hakka Language and Social Sciences at National Central University has observed that upon entering a patriarchal family through marriage, a woman assumes two pivotal roles: that of a wife, an in-law in her new family, and that of a mother. Traditional expectations often demand that women carry the torch of paternal lineage, pigeonholing them as caregivers, supporters, domestic managers, and nurturers. These roles, varying with life’s stages, entail responsibilities and obligations that reflect an inherent gender bias within the familial structure.
Conventional pressures on women post-motherhood erode their independence. Many mothers postpartum must abandon their careers, forgo socialising with friends, and immerse themselves entirely in childcare, prioritising their children above all else. Faced with the choice between family and career, mothers find themselves at a crossroads: fulfil the role of a competent mother or chase personal aspirations, a seemingly binary decision.
Not all mothers are psychologically prepared for new life, such as Taiwanese artist Annie Wang. During her PhD studies in the UK in 2000, an unexpected pregnancy felt like a life shattering event. “I resisted the idea of having a child at first.” She admits, prompting an introspection on her profound aversion. Pregnancy was not in Wang’s plans, and acceptance brought not only physical discomfort but also a sense of being stripped of energy and self.
“This overwhelming fatigue, unavoidable and unconsolable for someone in my maternal position, ignited my motivation to create this series,” Wang reveals. Thus, amidst her struggles with motherhood, she initiated an indefinite art project titled “Mother as Creator”. Employing monochrome silver gelatin film and stark contrasts, she portrays the complex experience of motherhood, blending her identities as both mother and artist.
On the eve of her due date in 2001, Wang captured the series’ inaugural photograph. Her face etched with discontent and seated awkwardly to convey bodily discomfort, she inscribed her pregnant belly with “My Belly/My Baby” and signed her name. This was her method of documenting “how I disappear in the role of a mother”, a means of self-preservation.
The following year, in the UK, she took the series’ second photo, cradling her son against the backdrop of the first image. While preparing her doctoral research, she chose motherhood as her theme. A female professor at the University of London dismissed the topic as trivial. In defiance, Wang transferred to the University of Brighton, determined to tell the mother’s story in the first person.
Since 2001, Wang has taken a new portrait alongside her son in front of their previous family photo every year, striving to maintain her independence within her maternal role through her art. “As a mother, I realised the role is powerful and requires constant growth, confronting children with creativity, flexibility, and various skills.” She shares. Her aim is to revisit and redefine the often-invisible role of motherhood in a patriarchal society, rediscovering the endless creativity inherent to mothers. “I hope to restore mothers’ rightful place in human history, and that is the ultimate message conveyed through my artwork.”
The renowned feminist author Simone de Beauvoir once stated in her book The Second Sex, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” She imparts to all women that being a woman is a choice, predicated on profound self-awareness, sufficient courage, confidence, and effort. For a woman transitioning into motherhood, the spectrum of choices widens. The most crucial is to not let the advent of children usurp one’s life, your life is still yours to live well.
As the project continues, Wang’s son is now 21, and her collaborative creativity involves him in crafting concepts worth capturing, while her husband assists with the setting. Over two decades, the photos reflect her transformation from resistance to embracing her role as a mother, engaging with motherhood positively. The New Yorker acknowledges her in “redefining motherhood as a grand endeavour”, the BBC commends her for challenging and transcending the clichés of motherhood, showcasing its positive aspects through her experiences. Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s journal recognizes her in “transforming the taxing practice of motherhood into a unique artistic endeavour, presenting a remarkably distinctive and fresh creative work to Taiwan’s photographic scene.” The series chronicles not just the growth of a child, but the evolution of a mother and son.
To view the complete “Mother as Creator” series, visit Annie Wang’s portfolio: https://artanniewang.weebly.com/the-mother-as-a-creator.html
For further insights into Annie Wang’s artistic journey, explore her personal website: https://artanniewang.weebly.com
Photo source: TW Yahoo，Weebly，Art Emporer