Art for the Now is an interview series. We speak with Maine artists, makers, and organizers who are engaging with issues of social justice, questioning the political, creating inclusive spaces, and/or are generally fueling the resistance with creative spark. Welcome. Let’s meet our neighbors.
Future Mothers : a socially engaged art project creating open spaces and platforms for community building, public action and social change. Future Mothers is a collective vision/structure/practice that takes the form of prints, installation, books, and performance. Using printmaking as a platform Future Mothers construct densely layered objects, structures, and environments for practicing maternal ethics and responding to social-political events. Future Mothers’ primary work focuses on creating contemplative space and vehicles for challenging dialog and social change. The artists partner with educational communities, artists, activist, teachers and community leaders on public programming. This includes art making activities and workshops such as screen printing, sewing, drawing and book making. In these community settings the tent becomes a space and vehicle for learning and civic engagement. Participants have the opportunity to engage in creative projects, share stories about their communities, explore and discuss local and/or national social issues, meet new neighbors and build relationships.
Describe your artwork and collaboration in 10 words or less.
Utilizing collaborative artmaking as a tool for equity, social justice and public action.
What do you find challenging about being an artist in 2017?
The shrinking number of gallery spaces and funding sources are constant challenges for artists. At the same time, this obstacle has spurred more artists to form collectives and establish their own platforms to share their work with the public. Creating your own community and carving out space in the art world is an enormous amount of work and it grows increasingly difficult to acquire funding to sustain these independent endeavors long term. I do believe the artist collective is here to stay but artists will need to use their creative capacity to establish an alternative economy and revenue to have this vision thrive.
We also notice a lack of representation and inclusion In the local art community. In our work we hope to foster a bigger discussion among our peers about racism, sexism and equity. The community can be a closed circle, with a very small number of artist gaining access to funding, exhibitions and press. This needs to open up and reflect the larger community of people in Portland.
What / who is currently inspiring you locally?
Our Public Engagement students at Maine College of Art inspire us every day by their willingness to take creative risks and engage others in challenging dialog. Their experimentation and fearlessness in making socially engaged art is a model for their peers and their community. We also are inspired by young muslim students of color leading public actions against police violence and the recent muslim ban.
Describe your workspace. What essential tools do you need before you begin your work?
Access to a professional print studio is always an ideal work environment but it is not always possible. Printmakers are extremely resourceful, highly skilled problem solvers and they have the ability to improvise when needed. The earliest forms of printmaking do not require a press, a humble table and wooden spoon will produce a quality impression from a wood block. Contemporary printmakers are continually inventing new materials and methods to reduce the toxicity of print techniques and make it possible to produce prints in a home studio.
Do you have any creative routines or rituals?
Collaborative work is very different from a solo studio practice. The artists need to trust each other and be willing to have their mind and ideas changed in a collaborative relationship. This requires an openness and fearlessness to take creative risks and support your collaborators vision. It does not always mean you agree on everything, but there needs to be mutual respect and shared values for the work to move forward.
The working routine of collaborative artists includes shared research, meetings, constant communication and careful planning. There are also many logistical decisions that are important for the collaborative team to consider, for example, where will we work, how will we schedule time to work together in the studio, what are our roles and responsibilities in this project? Ultimately, managing the relationships in collaborative work is as important as the work itself.
Colleen always has some music picked out for a print session. Music energizes the space and helps keep the work flow moving. We listened to a tape of Bob Marley’s “Catch a Fire” while printing the insides of the Future Bridges tent. We are not sure how many times we flipped the tape but we feel like it’s good luck to listen to from now on.
What are you listening to / reading / looking at right now?
This Bridge Called My Back, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Cade Bambara
Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton
They Can’t Kill Us All, Wesley Lowery
Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves, Carolyn Chute
This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
Marcus Garvey, Hero, Tony Martin
Alice Coltrane – Turiya Songs
Omar Souleyman – Highway to Hassake
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Art & Video
Sue Coe, Bell Hooks Conversations at the New School, “Are You Still a Slave?”
Artists + exhibitions
We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985 Mastery, Kerry James Marshall
For Freedoms, Dread Scott
Mobile Print Power
What role do you think art / artists should play in our communities?
Agents of Change, Tricksters, Agitators, Mirrors to reflect culture and question it. Design and Beauty are tools of the artist but what is produced should strive beyond those surface goals.
What wise words do you carry with you into your practice?
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” —Assata Shakur
“Revolution is a process.” —Chuck D
“I will not have my life narrowed down.” —bell hooks
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” Audre Lorde
“From many streams come large rivers.” —Lao Tzu
Sister Corita Rules
Tell us about the name, Future Mothers, and how you came to it. How did you decide on the mediums used in this project? How do other artistic mediums inspire / inform your work?
Colleen reads and watches a lot of science fiction because of the possibilities presented for the “future”, i.e. food abundance-not scarcity, earthlings as humans-not divided by gender or race, in other words radical change. Living in 2017 the future is now but it also looks an awful lot like the past. Back in 2009 Colleen had wanted to publish a zine titled FutureMag—long story short future, and the word itself, was on her mind. All human beings on this planet are born from a woman even though we forget, suppress or devalue this fact. Most of the casualties in war that are left out of history are women and children. In 2011 after another Israeli attack on Gaza, we created our first tent piece for the exhibition, The World Over at the ICA. We titled the piece, and our collective work, Future Mothers, to reflect the narratives represented in the work and to express our maternal ethics and feminist values.
Our work takes the form of prints, installation, books, and performance. Using printmaking as a platform Future Mothers construct densely layered objects, structures, and environments for practicing maternal ethics and responding to social-political events. Future Mothers’ primary work focuses on creating contemplative space and vehicles for challenging dialog and public engagement . Our most recent project Future Bridges, is funded by The Warhol Foundation, Kindling Fund, which includes a pop-up mobile version of our first tent and a series of public actions within the City of Portland.
What is one question you wish we’d asked? (And answer it.)
What do you do to recharge/heal to continue doing the work?
Since human connection is central to our work we need authentic interactions with those around us who love and support us. We also need to be completely alone with no demands. As women we are on a clock, cleaning, cooking, laundry, parenting. It is rare to find a large chunk of time to just go into the studio and be with yourself but it is necessary to those who create.
Spending time with our daughters and family, experiencing true friendship, and taking long walks. Listening to good music, playing music and singing. Reading books by radical thinkers, having a spiritual practice and total silence! We are inspired by the Buffy St. Marie quote about withdrawing as essential to her practice as an activist, artist & musician, “ I knew that in order to do that kind of work—at the level that I like to do it, I was going to have to take care of the quiet thing in me that replenishes the whole well.”
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Elizabeth A. Jabar is a feminist printmaker who explores a range of personal-political issues in her work including cultural identity, representation, equity and maternal ethics. Her practice is located in the studio, the classroom and the community where she co-creates collaborative and participatory projects with students, colleagues and community members. Her hybrid works on paper and cloth display a highly personal visual language that incorporates motifs from popular culture, folk art, religious traditions, and textiles. Elizabeth’s printed objects and environments embody printmaking’s democratic tradition of resistance and collective power and reflect her commitment to art as a tool for social change. Elizabeth is Chair of the Printmaking Program at Maine College of Art where she also designed and launched MECA’s distinctive social practice undergraduate curriculum the Public Engagement Minor. She also serves in an administrative role as Assistant Dean and Director of Public Engagement. More here and here.
Colleen Kinsella works simultaneously as an artist and a musician reflecting on the world we live in by challenging and questioning the possibilities of humankind through drawing, photography print, book or song. Her values are rooted in feminism and inspired by her parents spiritual practice, activism and teaching. Aware of inequalities within her community and her family gave her a strong sense of social responsibility and the need to hear and see different voices that questioned the status quo. She has exhibited her work throughout the United States and Europe, twice juried into Portland Museum of Art Biennial. Her art can be found on over 60 album covers as well as Library of Congress collection of historical recordings. Playing in several bands since 1999 has allowed her to tour the US, Canada Scandinavia and Europe many times. She has been making music as Big Blood since 2006 with her family, releasing over 20 albums through her family’s independent record label dontrustheruin which produces hand printed one of a kind objects paired with music. The Big Blood catalogue is free online at WFMU’s Free Music Archive. More here and here and here.
All photos courtesy of Future Mothers.