The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Breaking the Bias’ and in reflection, we could think of no greater example than that of Mothers: first-generation Mothers, migrant Mothers, working Mothers, stay at home Mothers, disabled Mothers, refugee Mothers, young Mothers etc. There are countless stories, examples, and experiences written within our mother’s histories that tell the tale of barrier-breaking strength and bias-defying ambition. Therefore, in conjunction with Mother’s Day, we curated a three-day exhibition reflecting on the living legacy of Mothers and their stories which are as diverse as all of the lives that this world holds in it.
However, the exhibition wasn’t solely about celebrating their strength, but also their softness, their smiles, their beauty, their love, and their radiance.
Produced and Curated by our Community Manager, Elsie Ayotunde Cullen in collaboration with Woman To Woman, the multi-media exhibition used visual storytelling and the creative works of many young artists to celebrate all Mothers and the lives they brought into the world. Read on for a glimpse of the works we showcased alongside the artists’ bios.
‘God is a Woman’, digital charcoal and collage, 100x75cm.
Upon seeing this piece we instantly knew we wanted it to feature in the exhibition. It depicts an almost holy perspective of Motherhood in which one could believe that God really is a woman. Set upon the backdrop of a full moon, this piece communicates all things womanhood, maternal and godly.
‘Olori Adebisi’, Acrylic on Canvas painting, 61 x 76cm, Feb 2021.
“A painting of my mother and grandmother embracing on my mum’s traditional wedding day. These two Mrs Adebisi’s have moulded me into the woman I am today, hence why I have titled this piece Olori (queen in Yoruba) Adebisi (our family surname)”
‘Bon Appetit’, oil on canvas, 36 x 26 inches.
“The second painting was part of a wider project around the link between food and women and how they are represented in society. In my mother’s portrait, I aim to represent how in Senegalese culture, food is used as a tool to enforce gender norms. The food in the basket are all actual food brands in Senegal and I found it fascinating that food brands in Senegalese society are often women’s names, including my own.”
“This sound piece was a part of a large installation. In Senegal, oral tradition is an invaluable part of the culture and has played an essential role in keeping important histories and legacies in the country. This tradition being carried on is also a main way that I have kept a strong connection to the country despite having never lived there. This was reflected in the piece as sound pieces of recordings of my mother recounting the story of Mame Coumba Bang in Wolof. When I asked my mum to tell this story, she ended up telling the story just before bed with my younger sisters who hadn’t actually heard it yet, so it was like watching the oral tradition continue to be passed on.”
‘Many hands of motherhood’, mixed media
“Creating carry life in lockdown lead to this piece, pictured a woman with many arms elevated from home (the city, Earth holding on to various body parts. Motherhood was upon me and this came creatively to me, my mum named it.. ‘Many hands of motherhood, (giggles) that’s what you’ll need’. Yep going into pregnancy and motherhood solo I sure could use the extra 4 some days, but tbf family have been incredible aunts and uncles.. Gg and G’Pas.”
“My project is a visual celebration of me embracing my Tamil roots and
showcasing the story of my roots through my mum’s lived experience too.
However, it is also a new beginning of building my legacy. Something that I
realised when I was interviewed by Anisha Parmar for her gold stories project, where I spoke about the sentimental and significant gold pieces that me and my family have – she made realise with every experiment and project revolving around my Tamil heritage has been able creating my legacy through tangible objects and visuals, instead of my family’s lived experience just being memories and their
stories. Through this project, the importance of authentic representation has become more and more amplified, especially seeing many outside of the south Asian community treat our traditional wear as casual costumes and ‘not coming from an authentic genuine place’ (i-D, 2019, 0:28). Constantly seeing such cultural appropriation is another aspect that has frustrated but also motivated to show the rich cultural history of these pieces and objects that most see as ‘aesthetically pleasing’. Creating this work has very much been about showcasing and visual reminiscing on every aspect of ‘Tamilness’ my parent has surrounded me with – from their struggles of immigration to understanding important tradition within my lived experience (puberty ceremony). Whilst creating this work I started to create a record of my growth and process since my first ever university project reflects on Tamil culture, ஒரு தீ வி லி ருந்து ஒரு நகரம் meaning “A city away from an Island”, which was about showcasing my Tamil and London roots through fashion. This decision of putting my work out there has given people of the south Asian community, especially seeing/ having my work about my Tamil heritage showcased on billboards across the UK – it’s showing the south Asian community that you don’t need to create work that westernised community can relate to be ‘successful’ – something that you see within my own work as always reflecting on mine and especially my mum’s lived experience as Tamils. My mother is someone, no matter where the environment she is, who maintains and always remember the values, life and memories influenced by her Tamil identity. Through my work I am showcasing the beauty of our community from an authentic perspective and ensuring that all south Asians of every skin tone are
In 2018, Our Peoples ran an art workshop with Over 50’s group, Forever Young, whilst documenting the stories of the group members. Visual artist Musa Jebak ran a painting and photography workshop, after which he created these artistic portraits using the paintings of each participant. The significance in this collection lies in the fact that several of the members who participated in this project unfortunately passed away, however, here their stories remain.
“We are the Alien Nation. The story about the journey of two Sierra Leonean mothers talking about the struggles of leaving their war-torn country in hopes of a better life in the UK and feeling alienated in their attempts to adjust to British culture. This story is set in the 90’s and is re-enacted by ‘the pikindem’ the children of the first generation. Written and directed by Jaka Koroma Styled and produced by Jaka Koroma Styling assistant Manuella Asantewa Videographer Tami Ogunleye Editor Tami Ogunleye Cast: Model 1 Nana Tchouanteu Model 2 Rose Koroma (my aunty) Voice over 1 Fanta Jalloh (my mum)”
In collaboration with Woman to Woman, we commissioned Latoya Okuneye to create a photo-series capturing a group of Mothers and their children to be showcased for the exhibition. Each of their Motherhood stories are rich, unique and filled with all the magic, dedication and tangible expressions of love that one needs to raise children.
Latoya is a multifaceted creative based in London, focusing mainly on fine art, portrait and fashion photography, and creative directing.
Latoya’s work explores the different facets of black beauty, womanhood and the female human experience.
Twice Migrants in Britain, Risograph Collages, A4, 2021
“My mothers archive imagery of their lives and experiences in India, Kenya and Britain in the 1960’s – 19’80’s. Exploring the juxtoposition of mixed identities and that feeling of where do we belong as part of the British diaspora.”
‘If she can do it, so can I’, Photo series
“In the Nuka Nails Studio, I captured co-founder Kadimah Tackie during a time where society often assumes that as motherhood begins your career must end. Shot in her first business baby just weeks before she gave birth to her first born. Kadimah not only serves as representation that you can be a young black business owner, but confirmation that simultaneously you can start your family. In her own words: “Don’t think having a baby is the end, it’s really the start of something greater, full of purpose & will motivate you to go harder.” My own mother is a great example of this. When she migrated here from Brazil, she didn’t speak a word of English. While raising her children, I vividly remember her studying and going self-employed in her chosen field. I grew up understanding that with determination and perseverance we can do both. So when I choose to become a mother I want my children to know that their mum is a boss & if she can do it so can I.”
‘Refugee Mothers’, Biro and Marker Pens, A1, 2018
Following the Syrian Refugee crisis, with images broadcasted of floating children and headlines spewing hate, I created this piece. This piece considers the journey of a Mother, travelling across oceans to protect her children, and the strength that one must draw on to survive. The goddess represents the various struggles women face.
A Mother’s Tale Documentary
Last but not least, we present ‘A Mother’s Tale’, a mini documentary filmed as part of our exhibition in collaboration with Woman to Woman, documenting the unique stories of 6 Mothers, reflecting on Motherhood and navigating life’s challenges.
In Loving Memory of Prophetess Margaret Abiola Cullen, Mum May your legacy continue to reign and echo across the worlds.