Performance and the Maternal

Lead Research Organisation: University of South Wales
Department Name: Faculty of Creative Industries


Maternal performance centralises relationships of care with another person, be they a dependent child or other, and presents this for a live audience in a performance encounter. We use the term 'maternal' as distinct from 'mothers' as we are interested in the condition of being in relation to an other rather than biological motherhood. 'Maternal' recognises inequalities in caring responsibilities but is not intended to exclude those in maternal role on the basis of sex or gender. There has been a significant upsurge in academic interest in the maternal; however, in performance studies the maternal is under-theorised. This project considers the maternal as represented by selected performance artists working in the UK, US and Europe through the medium of English. We will impact on both practice and policy, not only in arts making but also in fields where professionals have a responsibility to support mothers including, but not limited to, health, social care and education. We mobilise art practice, psychoanalysis and feminist theory to calibrate the existing work in the field of maternal studies within the frame of performance studies.
Jacqueline Rose's 'Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty' (2018) demonstrates the currency of maternal research. There has been a proliferation of mother/artist exhibitions, networks and performances internationally (for example 'The Egg the Womb the Head and the Moon' (2013-2014) collaborative blog and exhibition, the 'M/Other Voices' foundation, the AHRC funded 'Mums and Babies Ensemble' (on which the CoI for this application was a partner) and the 'Cultural ReProducers' networks, the 'Artist as Mother as Artist' (2016) exhibition, 'Partus' (2016) performed by Third Angel, and 'Motherland' (2012) by Vincent Dance Theatre etc.). However, academic consideration of 'maternal performance' is still lacking. Everyone, in some way, has a relationship to the maternal; we are all 'Of Woman Born' as Adrienne Rich stated in 1976. Artist/philosopher Bracha L Ettinger notes that we all carry the maternal within us, regardless of whether we have chosen to become mothers or not and regardless of our biological sex, because we all carry the memory of being carried (Ettinger, 2015). Lisa Baraitser encourages us to think of the maternal as an ongoing condition (2017, 2008). Our own research to date has attempted to go some way towards addressing the maternal gap in performance studies; this extended research study will bring to light new understandings of motherhood that can be gained from an in-depth study of maternal performance.
We will undertake textual analysis of the work of contemporary mother/artists working in the field of live art and performance as well as interviewing internationally renowned performance practitioners in the UK, Europe and North America including but not limited to Ukeles (USA), Young (USA), Wynne (USA), McCloskey (UK), Surman (UK), Baker (UK), Loveless (Canada), Epp Buller (USA), Chernick (USA), Lysholt Hansen (Finland) and Kessel (USA). We will produce outputs and events including a co-authored book which will advance scholarship within performance studies, a conference and conference paper targeted to encourage discourse across disciplines, a policy briefing which will be shared with the Welsh Assembly Government and selected political parties in order to inform future maternal policy, a forum designed to engage mother/artists from diverse backgrounds, and a website to ensure the ongoing accessibility of the work and extend out reach both within the UK and internationally.
Our aims in this study are explicitly feminist in that we hope to improve the conditions in which women mother through creating a greater understanding and discourse around the maternal.

Planned Impact

This project will generate impact in three key areas: culture, understanding, and policy and practice. The key groups who will benefit from the research are mother/artists, professionals in health and social care with a responsibility for supporting those who mother, and policy makers whose brief includes arts, health and social care, women and equalities.
Mother/artists who are the subject of this research and beyond will find community and receive greater acknowledgment of their work redressing the maternal gap in existing arts programming. Academic acknowledgment of the work of mother/artists profiled in this research will give visibility to these artists and impact their career and artistic development. Since the research team's publication of the 'Study Room Guide on Live art and the Maternal' and associated events at the Live Art Development Agency several international artists have contacted the PI and CoI to note that it has helped them develop their own maternal practice and find a community of artists. This project will build on this impact.
The Performance and the Maternal project network, which has been informally set up since 2016 through email correspondence, Motherhood & Live Art events at the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home, 'Study Room Guide on Live Art and the Maternal' publication and artist interviews, will be strengthened through this new research activity.
During this research we will produce a website, social media and email list, which will have broader reach, and go beyond the initial network participants. Impact will also be measured across a broader artistic community of mothers who are not the specific subjects of the research. We will assess this impact though event feedback and engagement with the website and project social media.
The research will explore how our understanding of maternal experience can be enhanced through an examination of the maternal as represented in performance. In doing this we will develop a deeper understanding of maternal performance and maternal life that will be shared through our website and events. We have had interest for these events expressed from practitioners in health care, in particular the PI has been developing links with the ABM University Health Board in West Wales who are widely acknowledged as sector leading in applied arts and health practice.
Policy and Practice
The PI also has a track record in extending research beyond the academy and convened a session at the Storytelling for Health conference in 2017 that brought together midwives and arts practitioners to explore the benefit of maternal performance for midwifery practice, as a result of this session an ongoing collaboration was established bringing arts practitioners to perform for student midwives. Through the symposium we will create opportunities for cross-disciplinary sharing that will have a direct impact on clinical practice through enhanced understanding. This will also impact on the practice of arts practitioners who are able to develop their own practice in relation to encounters in healthcare settings.
Our policy briefing will directly impact on policy around maternal practice. We have already obtained support from the Welsh Assembly Government cross party group on Arts and Health, the Wales Arts and Health Network and political parties Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party, who have all agreed to share the briefing; we will also seek further opportunities for disseminating the report to other interested policy forums and groups. Political activists will be invited to the symposium to extend the policy impact of the research. Through actively sharing and promoting the findings of the research beyond academy with those who are able to make change at a significant level we will make a tangible difference to the way women are supported to carry out their day-to-day mothering.
Description The overarching research finding is that performance and the maternal are allied as durational, relational, corporeal phenomena. Performance is a valuable tool to understand maternal experience and maternal experience is brought to the public domain through performance.
Further, artists and mothers can form maternal communities of care and support for one another and for their wider communities through maternal performance.
An additional finding is that there is a paucity of diversity within current discussions of maternal performance and the practice of mothering itself, which must be addressed in future research.
Further key findings are emerging around efficacy of maternal performance as a means of sharing maternal experience for improving patient and service user experience within health, social care and other associated domains. We are working on this element of the project.
Exploitation Route Maternal performance communities might be further developed.
An understanding of the maternal might be used to inform the practices of those with a professional responsibility for supporting mothers.
We are already aware of two independent groups that have been established as a result of our project to support mother artists and practitioners.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Our outputs and events have had global reach. The forums and book launch in particular engaged a a transnational community of maternal practitioners and artists to develop. As a result of the forums we are aware that one Slack discussion group has been established that includes participants from at least the US and UK and one FAN group has been established as part of a regular artist led peer support network that expands the work of the network into the field of the maternal and mother/art. Both of these groups include participants from both the arts and health sectors. We also had significant attendance from university students, with one course adding the fora as a core event for their students to attend and using the documentation and artists interviews produced by the project as key course materials. We have been informed by several maternal artists that the project has promoted discussion and changed attitudes. We have also approached by colleagues at Public Health Wales to explore links with the project and information sharing. Societal impact: Maternal performance helps us to change perceptions about motherhood and allows for more complex and diverse narratives to become visible. Cultural impact: Mother/artists have found support and community through the project. The arts sector has been encouraged to pay due attention to the important work of mother/artists. The project has enabled more visibility for mother art and has enabled a diversification of the field and artform. Economic impact: At this early stage we are not able to measure economic impact.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Contextual mothering 
Organisation Cwm Taf University Health Board
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution the project PI and Co-I are co-convening a symposium with Dr Leah Salter, systemic family therapist in Cwm Taf Health Board
Collaborator Contribution Dr Leah Salter has co-convened the Contextual Mothering symposium
Impact Contextual Mothering Symposium to take place on 18th May 2021
Start Year 2021
Description ENGAGE conversations across performance studies and the maternal 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This series of five online fora considered, through different artistic and academic perspectives, how maternal performance helps us to understand the lived condition of motherhood. Each forum responded to a themed-provocation and featured an international panel of guest speakers plus a Q & A.
Themes: artists forum; storytelling and mothers; performing climate, gender and maternal futures; migration and maternal citizenship; health policy and impact
Over 30 speakers from professional fields including performance, fine art, curation, healthcare, research, and policy took part. 457 audience members attended the sessions from countries including Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Nederland, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, UK, and US. Conversation have continued with many participants reporting that they made new connections and networks which have continued beyond the fora.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Keynote talk at Warrington Borough Council International Women's Day event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A talk about maternal performance and reading from the book 'Maternal Performance'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Performance and the Maternal website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A fully bilingual (English and Welsh) website has been created. To date there have been 8138 views from 3730 visitors to the site and from across six continents. We cannot report direct impact at this stage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021,2022
Description artist interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 18 artist interviews have been published on the project website to date. This has enabled these artists to reach new audiences generating new opportunities and profile for their work. We have since been contacted by a number of other artists interested in sharing their work in this way. We hope this has also changed public perceptions of maternal art although are not able to measure any change in perceptions at this stage of the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021,2022