This time last year, I had a vision of a participatory Story of Mum exhibition celebrating motherhood. I had never hosted an exhibition before, I had no idea how to budget or deliver one, and I didn’t consider myself in any way an artist. But I went ahead and made an application to the Arts Council anyway – because I believe in following up on those ideas that won’t stop wiggling in your gut. You never know where they will lead you.
It must have been a good application. In May, we hosted our first exhibition and events at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. Standing with my mum in front of 40 bemused mothers, I was terrified. I started to explain what Story of Mum and the exhibition was all about, my speech written on a piece of card that shook as I spoke. I spoke about giving mothers a voice. About being seen and heard. About taking time out to publicly value all that we do, and to share our stories with others.
The bemused looks faded and mums began to share their stories, made art and talked – about the deep stuff, the difficult stuff, the stuff we have in common and the stuff that is all our own. That first experience and the incredible feedback from the mums who took part exceeded all our expectations. Having planned one pop-up event, we stayed at the gallery for a month.
Next was a month at The Exchange in Penzance, my home town in Cornwall. I was nervous all over again. What would my friends and school-gate acquaintances think of this crazy idea? What would they think of me? In one night, I learnt more about their stories than I had managed to glean in 5 years of chatting as we pushed buggies and swings. There were tears, lots of tears. And laughter and singing. It was exhilarating and powerful.
By the time we reached The Photographers’ Gallery in London, I believed we had something special. But I was still terrified that our participatory art would be dwarfed by the ‘real’ artists all around us. Then, as I began to talk to the first visitors about what we were doing and why, I had the most amazing sensation of aliveness. That I was doing what I was made to do. I felt beautiful, to my soul. As if I was shining. Believe me, it’s hard to write that, because the internal belittling voices are not happy with me claiming that. But I truly felt it – like the idea had come to life in me, and I could see it bringing life to others.
And now, in just a few days time, we are taking our exhibition to New York! An impossible thought this time last year. And yet, we’ll be there, at the Museum of Motherhood from 5-8 December. To launch, my mother and I are even co-hosting a workshop with the wonderful Suzi Banks Baum, the very artist whose work inspired one of our major exhibition activities – the Mama Mash-Up.
That idea certainly had a very good reason to wiggle last year. I am so glad I listened to it. And of course, right now, I sit in the blue-greyness of doubt once more. Who am I to turn up in New York? Will anyone be interested? Will anyone come? As I think these thoughts, I try to hold on to that feeling of aliveness. Of the power of an idea taking on its own life, shining into mine and lighting up the lives of others. So much of following our dreams is faith. In an idea. In ourselves. In community.
I’d love to see you there.
Meet up with Pippa & her mom Penny in New York City this month and join in their make dates for mums & families!
Thursday 5 December, 5-7pm: Story of Mum/Femail Mash Up Make Date
Sunday 8 December, 1-3pm: Family Make Date