Two and a half years ago, my mother and I launched Story of Mum in memory of a lost friend: a young mother, a creative inspiration, and the heart of our community.
It has already grown into more than we imagined together. A creative community of mothers, supporting each other as we play – online and off. It is living breathing doodling sculpting writing photographing proof of the power of our stories. The power of believing that there is a value in us telling them, and in listening to the stories of others. The power of a community that creates together.
As part of our touring exhibition and events programme (yes, somehow we have one of those! How wonderful is that, Loz!) we recently held two “Make Dates” at The Exchange, a gallery in Penzance, my home town. The Exchange hosts artists like Patrick Lowry, John Newling, Tatsumi Orimoto, and a load of mums. That’s us. I wouldn’t claim we’ve joined the high art community, but as they say of Elvis, we are in the building.
We do all sorts of wonderful things online – encouraging mums to create via the website and at our monthly twitter Make Dates (join us on the second Weds of every month, using #somum). But these most recent Make Dates, face to face, captured something very precious about the value of creative community for me.
At our Family Make Date, mums, dads, grandparents, friends, all sat together and created alongside our kids. Not leading them. Alongside them. We sat nearby, creating as they did. Connected. Equal. Lost in the precious moment of making something for the joy of it. We were a creative family.
The kids’ creativity was freeform. There were tool-kits for making butterflies, animals, paper-chains. And there was play-dough, painting, drawing, cutting, sticking – the equipment in the room their only limitation. Children, full of inspiring energy and a joyful lack of self-consciousness.
For us mothers, less familiar with playing for ourselves, less used to creating for the pure pleasure of it, there was more of a framework. Loose enough to interpret, structured enough to feel secure. We made Mama Mash-Ups (a simple strip collage exercise to explore ourselves) and Identity Parades (paper people chains of all the different people we are).
Perhaps most importantly, we knew we were making something that would join the travelling exhibition. We were creating in the context of a wider creative community of mothers. Contributing our voices to an unfolding story of motherhood. A story that says society may not value our contributions fully and our sense of self may have shrunk as a result. But our creation story is here, in our hearts and now out on these gallery walls.
“What are you making mummy?” A chance to explain who I am. “Look at mine!” I see my daughter in her scribbles. My son points up at the gallery wall “Is that yours mummy? It’s beautiful”. Hugs. Pride.
A deep connection is made in creating alongside each other. In the knowledge that we are distinct, but part of something greater. The experience adds depth and resonance to what we create. We inspire those around us, and they in turn inspire us. In doing so with our children, we are also reminded of how creating used to feel. We are a child again, believing in the possibility and value of our own creations, our dreams, our stories.
Our second event was a Mums’ Make Date. This time, we sat alongside other mothers, loosened from our children by distance and margheritas, holding cupcakes free of sticky fingerprints, to share our stories.
We created together, and we talked without interruptions. We made biscuit poetry with the wonderful Sally Crabtree, who also sang us the most uplifting and hilarious poem, made up of words from our communal Mums’ Poem, submitted by mothers all over the world.
Five mothers shared their own mothering journeys in a simple film format: 10 photos, with just 20 seconds or so to talk about each. Stories of coming late to motherhood, losing track of the partnership at the heart of a marriage, facing miscarriages, Cystic Fibrosis, Downs’ Syndrome, always the unexpected. Stories of how motherhood has transformed us, in spite or because of these challenges. Of the joy and the constant loss. Of the fear and the magic. In this creative act, together, we found ourselves.
Most of the time, we don’t see the story layers of those around us as we go about our daily busy-ness. It’s not until we come together to create, vulnerably and openly, and to share what we create, that we are able to remind ourselves of just how valuable our contributions are.
We remember that mistakes are part of the journey, that crying together, or laughing so much that cake gets stuck up our noses, is OK. In creative community, we understand that whatever our background, our status, our troubles and experience, we have a voice. Our stories deserve to be told. Even when we’re gone.
All photos credited to Chris Webber
Where do you gather to share community stories? Please let us know in the comments!