Dyana Gravina, Founder of Procreate Project, Reflects on the Mother Art Prize 2020


As the Mother Art Prize 2020 comes to a close, we sat down with Dyana Gravina (Founder & Creative Direction) of Procreate Art Project to reflect on their exhibition at Cromwell Place. 

Founded in 2013, Procreate Project was born in response to a stark inequality for women, particularly mothers represented in the artworld. Only 3-5% of the artworks in major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe are made by women artists. Procreate Project, through its actions and advocacy, strives for equal representation for [self-identifying] women working in the arts and creative industries. 

One of their key endeavours is the annual Mother Art Prize, which this year boasted 626 submissions from 45 countries. The group exhibition at Cromwell Place features 19 short-listed artists of the Mother Art Prize 2020, the only international prize for self-identifying women and non-binary visual artists with caring responsibilities.


When you conceptualised the Mother Art Prize, why was it important that artists were showcased from around the globe, and not just the UK? 

When the prize was first trialled in 2017, It was responding to what we know is an international and universal issue; the lack of representation of women in the arts, and more specifically, women who are raising children. That often results into a drop of their career development. So the prize, together with other platforms we run, respond to what is a universal and very extended issue and need for representation and visibility as well as creating a platform for themes that would otherwise be overlooked and devalued.

Carly Schmitt, RenactmentofaOneYearPerformance


Carly Schmitt's ReEnactment of a One Year Performance focuses on the role of the mother in the domestic sphere. With increased time spent at home with family, has the response to maternal themes changed? 

Both parents being in the household during lockdown has instigated a sense of connection with some of the works from people that would not necessarily would have been willing to engage through art, or outside art, in fact. But I think that, that vicinity and the experience of the domestic space being so intense during lockdown helped the audience get closer to some of the works that are exhibited. And definitely, as you're pointing out Carly Schmitt, the ReEnactment of a One Year Performance piece that we have here is definitely one of the pieces that have engaged a lot of people beyond interest, beyond background, beyond gender. It is a clear and visible representation of what's usually invisible, domestic, unpaid and undervalued within the arts, but more generally in our society and culture.


Intersectionality is at the forefront of your narrative. Can you explain why it is important to champion marginalised artists in a collective setting?

Something so individual and unique to a person - personality, story, background and cultural belonging - becomes stronger when placed in the collective context. This is because it creates conversations. And [in this exhibition], it connects with different narratives, issues and experiences. So when we touch on intersectionality, in a large space like this one, and especially through art, one issue is not more important than the other, they communicate with each other. Valuing one doesn't mean that we are undervaluing another. Every place, subject and individual in the exhibition has equal value and equal representation. So when it comes to intersectional issues, through the curation of this show creates a way for equality, equal value and weight in the way that we address certain subjects and certain issues.

Something that is very individual and unique to a person - personality, story, background and cultural belonging - becomes stronger when placed in the collective context. This is because it creates conversations.
Dyana Gravina on intersectionality in a collective context
Sabba Elahi, thesuspectismyson

Do you have any examples of two artists or works that would have seemed fairly opposite if you were to encounter them in separate circumstances, but placed together creates a new dialogue or conversation?

I think that the way that we have curated the exhibition and what we have discovered through the curation process is that there are groups of works that more specifically talk to each other. So we have this collective feeling that you gather while you enter into the space where the different mediums, stories and subjects emerge. There are different works that do communicate to each other into almost certain groups. If we look at Sabba Elahi, for example, [in thesuspectismyson series] she is addressing the issues of a Pakistani woman living in America, and the feeling of the Muslim community in America, to be observed and continuously judged for any movement in private or public lives. So that really tells a lot about the American administration and they treat people who have a different background.

And then we look at this piece next to Sabba's one, [Marta Stysiak, BADLAND] that explores the politics of Poland, where teenage mothers don't have any right to their children until they become of age. The government takes the babies, and the mothers are not allowed to see them until they become of legal age. So obviously, it is a completely different story, but it tells a story on how many countries, cultures, and political administrations do not address the reality of mothers. These are completely different cultures, but both are looking at how difficult the experience of motherhood can be. Additionally how it can be even more challenging, because they are not supported by the political and cultural structure around them. So it is a very individual experience, because Marta's work is talking about a specific person in the video, but they address a universal common ground and a shared issue.

Marta Stysiak, still from BADLAND 

Is there anything else you'd like to discuss reflecting back on the exhibition?

[This exhibition] has been very important. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be here, because it's well placed in this context. And the contrast, again, with more commercial art world exhibits. Our presence has highlighted our mission and values in a way that made people very responsive and very thoughtful around what we're trying to do and really recognise the need for it. I think that has been very interesting to witness and, and it has been great to really bring this theme forward to the wider art world and has been a catalyst in our development as an organisation. 

More broadly, we are very happy about the selection of the works. This selction is out of control for me and Paola as directors of the organisation. So there was that pressure at some point of not knowing exactly which works we were going to exhibit, or how it would all look together; but more importantly, if they were going to be representative enough of the overall ethos and mission of the organisation and the themes that we want to push forward to break those boundaries and those taboos that are present within art and society.

We are very satisfied, in fact, because it goes beyond the stereotypical perception of what maternal art is, the submissions also go beyond the experience of the maternal, they address more broadly gender, politics, sexuality and even touch on maternal death, for example. They looked into the invisibility of women in the art history and intergenerational exchange as well and lineage and community. So it has been a pleasure to gather all these themes and to have the opportunity to bring them into this context.


Other than the Mother Art Prize 2021 edition, what can everyone look forward to as Procreate Project’s next endeavour?

We are in the process of putting together the next edition of the Mother Art Prize, but in addition, we are about to open the first permanent Motherhouse Studios, which is an artist studio model with integrated childcare; where children are welcome into the working space. It's a model that has been piloted in London and Stroud since 2016 and at the end of 2018, we received the support of the Mayor of London and 200 other backers. It has been an incredible journey, two years in the making. We are opening the doors at the beginning of 2021, COVID allowing, in the community of Lewisham and the idea is to then make that model replicable.

Helen Benigson, Jude

Procreate Project are Honorary Members at Cromwell Place. Their Mother Art Prize 2020 exhibition took place in the Pavilion Gallery from the 10 October through 31 October. See our latest exhibition programme and book free access here. 


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