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Lenka Clayton Challenges What It Means to Be an Artist and a Mother

The sculptor tackles stereotypes of working artist-mothers head-on.

Cailey Rizzo

63 objects taken from my son's mouth. All images courtesy the artist

Motherhood looks a lot like childhood.

There are colorful, plastic toys and clothing tailored for a small, growing body. There's unbridled exploration and change, however there's also something much more poignant about looking at these objects through the lens of a mother. There's knowledge behind the gaze.

From installing a live baby monitor in an art museum to covering all the scissors in her house with soft wool, Lenka Clayton's work—which bridges mediums like performance art, video and photography—explores not only her own experiences as a mother, but femininity and motherhood in general.

All Scissors in the House Made Safer, 2014

She has created series like Objects Taken From My Son's Mouth, The Distance I Can Be From My Son, and Moons From Next Door, which reimagines balls from over the fence as planets. She also started a program called Artists-in-Residence-in-Motherhood (ARiM) to empower and support working artist mothers.

"I believe ARiM, and other artworks that position parenthood as a normal, generative and creative ambition for an artist are essential to counteract the persistent and sexist narrative that asks women to give up motherhood for art, or art for motherhood," Clayton tells Creators.

The project began as an exercise in turning Clayton's new motherhood into productivity, but on Mother's Day 2016, she opened the residency up to artists around the world. In less than a year, it has grown into a global network of more than 350 working artist-mothers in 32 countries across six continents.

Moons from Next Door

The residency, which lasts as long as participants want and takes place wherever they are, reimagines "aspects of parenting that were obstacles to working—such as exhaustion, fragmented focus, nap-length studio time, invisibility, anxiety—as materials to make work out of rather than obstructions to working," Clayton explains.

In fact, much of Clayton's work repurposes the challenges of motherhood into something artistic. Her project Mother's Days collected 100 letters from 100 women all over the world, each describing 24 hours in their life. Clayton typed out their responses on strips of faded construction paper and performed a live reading of the letters at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

The idea "came out of the isolation I experienced as a parent of very young kids," Clayton explains.

Mother's Days. Photo: Tom Little

Mother's Days

"I was alone a lot of the time with the kids, involved in absurd sleep-deprived cycles, wondering what everyone else was doing at this exact moment as I wiped spaghetti and vomit and so on off my shoes," Clayton says.

"Mother's Days made visible to me the shared but almost completely invisible experience, of childcare and early motherhood. It was an extraordinary comfort to read."

Clayton's work is on display through July 9 in a solo show at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. Clayton and collaborator, Jon Rubin, have a piece called Circle Through New York, commissioned by the Guggenheim Social Practice Initiative that runs through August 31.

Women's Intuition, 2013

The artist, Lenka Clayton, at work

For more of Clayton's work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram.

Related:

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An Artist Puts His Family Back Together with Collaged Photos

A Step-by-Step Guide to Staying an Artist While Having a Baby