Erin Faith Allen (UK, London)
Motherless Mothers (2015)
Mixed media on canvas
The traumatic birth of my daughter unlocked deeply rooted layers of traumatic childhood memories. Born myself into severely disconnected family lines and having little support, I turned to art and research. Investigating the lives of my unknown ancestors became my passion, a way to consider motherhood with its myriad of constant choices: to love or abandon, nurture or reject, feed or withhold, hold or hit.
Motherless Mothers is part of a body of work inspired by researching the colourful life of my maternal great-grandmother, who lost her mother to suicide as a toddler, the subsequent choices that led to her giving up my grandmother at birth, and the chain of behaviours passed down to my mother, then to me. Extensive research has revealed my great-grandmother as a fascinating woman of complexity and talent; she broke traditions, and yet was bound by them. Her decisions ripple through her descendants still.
These paintings explore five generations of women in my lineage, all operating from a charged underground current of DNA in spite of the secrecy surrounding my grandmother’s adoption. They question the influence of the insidious and often unacknowledged power of genetics, the stigmas and expectations society places on a mother, the isolating burdens that can place on her, and the psychological ramifications that occur when those burdens are unconsciously misplaced onto her children.
My work challenges the viewer to consider their ancestors’ full spectrum of history with its fears and longings, and question where this may have perpetrated shadows in the legacy passed down that only a steadfast willingness to peel back layers can illuminate. The ultimate choice within the realm of parenthood is: will we give our children the example of living from within our personal tragedies, or will we weave life – and our children’s lives – from empowered presence.