Learn what raising a child and making art have in common.
New Waves 2020, Virginia MOCA's 25th juried exhibition of Virginia artists is on view at the Museum through August 16. Heather Hakimzadeh, Virginia MOCA curator, sat down with New Waves artist Megan Wynne to discuss her process and artwork. This exhibition features 29 artworks by Virginia artists selected by Guggenheim Associate Curator, Susan Thompson, from more 1,900 works submitted.
HH: Where are you from originally?
MW: I consider Chesapeake to be my hometown. We moved here right before I turned eleven and I continued to live here through high school. My parents still live here, too. I went away for a while to go to college and grad school and to follow my husband to grad schools as well. I came back home when I was pregnant with our first child.
HH: What drew you to becoming an artist?
MW: I grew up as a dancer, and that art form had (and still has) a huge influence on me. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to New York City to become a professional dancer, but in art school I was really drawn to other mediums of self-expression as well—drawing, painting, photography, and sculpture.
Before moving back home, I worked in urban areas on the East and West Coasts. It's expensive and difficult to live in big cities, especially with kids. Living in Hampton Roads has turned out to be perfect for me and my family because I am able to more comfortably take care of my kids while I make work with them and share the work with an audience here. I get to be near the people I love that I've known since childhood. We have wonderful institutions here like Virginia MOCA and the Chrysler Museum, and arts districts like ViBe in Virginia Beach and NEON in Norfolk.
HH: Is your experience as a mother shifting as your children are growing and is that having an impact on your art?
MW: My work has evolved. One of my first pieces on motherhood was a video I made of my second child as a newborn while she was napping on me. While she slept, I moved her mouth with my thumb and pretended to talk for her using my voice. It was tongue-in-cheek, but it was a kind of strange cathartic expression of the trauma of labor and life with a newborn.
As the work progressed and my kids got older, I began giving them agency in how the work was made. The performances have become events I set up with a basic framework but then let my kids improvise. I've found their spontaneity and creativity make my work better than I could have made it myself if I had planned it out step by step.
The work becomes a "truer" expression of the maternal experience in which the act of mothering and negotiating with my kids exists in the work. It is chaotic and anxiety producing to try to make work under conditions that could go wrong at any moment. I am contending with the often-diverging objectives of my children, but at the same time I like when that tension comes across in the work. It's a delicate balance teetering on failure, and I think that's also a good way to describe what it's like to try to raise a child. It is so challenging!
HH: Your artistic practice centers on motherhood and questions identity in the scope of that role. I know that you refer to your children, who often appear in your work, as your collaborators. Can you tell me a bit about why you chose motherhood as the focus of your practice?
MW: Becoming a mother was such a huge, bewildering, and of course life-altering experience for me. I would see messages in our culture and in advertising that depicted motherhood in a quite reductive and oversimplified way, and it didn't match my experience at all.
I wanted to challenge those notions and express some of the complicated feelings that can accompany the maternal experience with my work. I knew I wasn't alone in experiencing these things.
Even just things like breastfeeding, for example. When I started this body of work, around 2013, it was extremely rare to see a baby breastfeeding. Yet it seemed like breastfeeding was something I did for most of my day and night. I just remember being so surprised and confused. The identity and work of mothers is often invisible, and I felt like I needed to make those things visible.
MOCA is now open with restricted hours, timed ticketing, and carefully planned social distancing and sanitation practices. For more information, visit www.virginiamoca.org.
Heather Hakimzadeh is curator at Virginia MOCA.