On 10, Apr 2016 | In Performance | By admin
Marta Jovanovic performed Motherhood as a contemplation of her life choices and her status as a woman artist in a patriarchal world. Having just gone through a fundamental transformation in her personal life, which forced her to reevaluate her path, her past and her future, she had to choose, once again, between society’s vision for a woman and her own way. The number of eggs in Motherhood was carefully chosen, each egg representing one fertile day in her life since she started menstruating at age 16. She states with an ironic smirk that each egg she cracked in the performance is one chance of becoming a “real woman”, a mother, that she “wasted on art.”
Jovanovic faced a decision that many women have to make and that comes for most women with substantial doubt and a paralyzing feeling of being torn. Do I want to become a mother or do I want to pursue my career? It also is a decision that possibly puts enormous strain on relationships and even friendships. Of course, it does not necessarily need to be “either” “or”, but sometimes it has to be. And what will the implications be? Will I regret becoming a mother and wife and having to put my career on hold or even let it go entirely? Will I wish I had become a mother once I do not have the option any longer? Even though in the present day contraceptives and the increasing, yet still insufficient support systems for women have at least made a choice possible, that choice still needs to be made and its implications, which are grave and long-term, considered carefully.
In that regard, Motherhood speaks to a significant portion of women who struggle with these decisions. There is, of course, no right or wrong as each one has to find their own answer and might or might not determine it to have been the right one. But Motherhood makes this internal fight visible and palpable and thus brings to attention an enormous struggle that too often is fought in private and has not yet found its place in the social discourse. Setting aside for a moment the fact that women still suffer from disadvantages in the professional world when they have a child or plan on having a child, it is the choice per se and the personal struggles associated with it, that still needs to get more attention and less judgement. This decisive point in women’s lives is also where the traditional gender roles and their stubborn presence in our society remain the most obvious. The personal considerations that women put into making the decision of becoming a mother or wife or remaining childless or without a relationship are additionally complicated by expectations and opinions from their social and cultural environment. And this, very much, still dictates the need for reproduction and “settling down”.
Seeing Jovanovic carefully navigate the slippery ground in Motherhood, feeling her frustration, sometimes her anger, witnessing her on the brink of losing control and then, at the tipping point, catching and stabilizing herself, is a metaphorical illustration of the delicate line women walk in their lives as they face the choices of becoming a mother or remaining childless, of fulfilling social expectations or following their own. At several points during the performance, it seemed as if the artist would lose her composure, become angry, or violent. But she managed to not only stay on her feet, but also do so with enormous grace, which allows for another feminist layer of interpretation: women’s inert knowledge of the need to keep it together, no matter how rough their path gets.
However, the cracking eggs in Motherhood hold a beautifully ambivalent notion. On the one hand, cracking an egg means destroying any possibility of life, negating fertility. Each egg leaving the female body during menstruation goes unused. At the same time, opening up an egg shell could also indicate hatching, if the egg was fertilized and bore a fetus. Metaphorically, coming out of one’s shell refers to growing and becoming one’s own personality, finding one’s true passion and purpose. This is exactly what Jovanovic did by deciding to dedicate her life to art not motherhood. Contradictorily, in her performance she was thus not only attacking the social ideal of a woman in her late thirties, but at the same time reaffirmed her status as a successful artist. The final image of the performance that presents itself to the viewer makes this abundantly clear: Standing under a network of soiled gauze socks, with her entire body covered in egg contents, her arms hanging down, her entire body exhausted, she appears defeated. Nothing is left, all her eggs are destroyed, all possibility of fertility crushed by her own hand. But at the same time, she can be understood as having just hatched from these eggs, as having just come to life, still frail, but ready to grow and create.