Name: Shira Richter, Israeli and American
Current Location: Israel, Herzliya
Education: My formal education taught me what I am since trying to UNlearn through my independent education.
Classic mainstream formal education
B.C. (before children) aprx 7 years:
Parsons School of Design, the New School for Social Research, NYC
Art Students League, NYC
Camera Obscura Film Studies Tel Aviv
Auto Didactic Education: Feminist Everything: Writing, Thinking, Art, Film, Philosophy, Graphic novels, Sociology, Anthropology, Medicine, Psychology, Art Therapy, Buddhism, Gender Studies, Masculinity Studies, Conflict management, Alternative Education, Political Mother Activism…
Preferred Art Medium(s): Multi-Interdisciplinary Visual Performance Lectures which merge the many disciplines I work in: film, photography, storytelling, performing, texts, graphics, drawings, consciousness raising activism.
Children (age and gender): Male (14) Male (14) Non-Identical Twins
Facebook page with links and photos
An interview with me at the “Hero” series : the international museum of women.
What happens when an artist becomes a mother– article on Shira’s work
Visual Performance “Our Enemies Realize our Power Before we do”
What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, here are you now, etc.)?
When I was a child my father, an epidemiologic doctor, decided to move the family from New York City, Manhattan to Israel, Jerusalem for ideological reasons. Imagine taking my mother, an orchestra musician with three small children, away from her support system, to a strange Middle Eastern hot tempered country with a language and culture she doesn’t know, like, or understand. This created quite an upheaval which affected everything from the family relationships to the driving forces inherent in my art practice.
Was there any part of your formal or non-formal training that prepared you for being a creative maker and mother simultaneously?
Two things helped: Working in the grueling film industry prepared me for the challenging production logistics baby twins require, and my independent research which led me to Clarrisa Pinkola Este’s Running with Wolves, Erica Jong’s books about being torn between motherhood, sex and writing, Niki de saint Phalle’s shooting paintings which legitimize rage and leaving one’s family, and Orson Wells advice to “use what you have” – instead of running after the impossible.
Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother?
An ocean of them! And each one of them introduced me to other inspiring women! I’d love to credit all of them here because we really need mutual support, so I’ll mention a few close souls who both inspire and support with actions: Dr. Hadara Scheflan Katsav came to interview me while writing her Doctorate thesis on Artist Mothers. This was in 2007, when most of my female colleagues were trying to hide their femalehood/motherhood and I was considered a traitor to the cause, flaunting my womanhood, motherhood and feminism in such a way. Hadara was the first art person in Israel who “got” the depths of my work and also explained the special predicament of an artist mother, which I summed up in my work It’s all about Me me me, We continued working together on my next solo installation show: Invisible Invaluables and eventually co-wrote the ensuing chapter If Mothers Counted, Status Symbols for the Invisible Art of Mothering about Israeli mother’s monetary status, published in Demeter book Counting on Marilyn Waring, New Advances in Feminist Economics. Then there is Dr. Miri Rozmarin, a feminist philosopher who researches motherhood, and featured an image of my work on her book Creating Oneself. Recently I was fortunate to be guest artist of The Motherload network Art project, created by artist mothers Leslie Underwood Robertson and Natalie Macellaio, who are featured in your site. Not only are they creating an international network while mothering and working, they have a spectacular partnership and relationship. Yes, I am inspired by those who try to walk the talk. Who try to introduce mothering ethics into the work practice. Then there is Dr. Orna Donath, who writes about the taboo choice to Not Mother. She introduced me to Deirdre Donoghue, who created the intellectual tribal support nest (my description): The Mother Voices Foundation, which introduced me to several inspirational practicing artist mama’s. To finish the unfinishable – ten minutes walking distance from me, lives Artist Mother Rela Mazali, book writer, independent scholar, thinker, and fierce activist – whose words, both oral and written, have a way of validating and soothing my soul.
Can you talk about how you balance your role of artist and the role of mother? Did you take time off after the birth of your children? How did that work? What about childcare? How did you navigate making artwork?
Balance? Ha! I think you meant “survival” 🙂
Let’s see if I can sum it up in a paragraph: Before I got pregnant I was a film maker working on my first feature documentary film and had a teaching job. Immediately after I got pregnant my film was stolen and my job was terminated. Men commit suicide for such employment/career crises! It was total (scary) identity Limbo, (Btw, IN LIMBO was the original title of my photography project “The Mother Daughter and Holy Spirit”). Now, few people know that one son was born with bilateral clubfoot, which meant he had leg casts and weekly checkups in the hospital, physiotherapy, and a major operation. Never mind the stress and fear all this creates, the sleepless nights because of the casts my partner works on weekends and holidays, the times when childcare is hardest to find and most expensive, and also has two-three week trips abroad.
So you can imagine how many “frequent solitude miles” I accumulated. For 10 months we had a sort of in-house paid help, which sounds great but was quite a complex challenge which I talk about in my photographs and texts “The Other Women”. I realized “Childcare” is a word which erases the real story of childcare. If a South African woman has to leave her autistic son and student- husband in order to be paid for taking care of someone else’s children, in order to send home money which would help take care of her Autistic son, then this is a sick, divisive, anti family, anti- child, twisted world economy.
In those years Money flowed out and not much flew in. It was so difficult, I was not sure our relationship would survive, and though Israeli families tend to be supportive, my extended family did not understand our predicament. I wrote a lot then, (here you can find two poems which were published in Mamsie journal curated by Andrea LIss) and started using my simple canon negative camera in minute long installments. This eventually became the material for two large scale solo shows. It took me a while to get an exhibit because I was unknown, and many art people were – well, ignorant about the subject matter and repulsed by the material. In those years my first studio was actually a laptop which I took to the only coffee shop in the area. So writing, taking pictures and gallery openings preserved my sanity.
Although art openings exist as if there are no such thing as children, and I arrived at them exhausted and shocked at their obliviousness of what an accomplishment it was for me to get there, at least they were free, and provided an opportunity to meet people, and be a person other than a mother. In 2007 I was awarded the artist’s house municipality subsidized studio which was my life line for 7 years. I want to use this opportunity to thank Varda Genossar, poet ,creator and ex manager/curator of the Herzliya Artist’s House, who believed in my work, and exhibited what has since become a classic: The Mother Daughter and Holy Spirit.
Why do you think the art world has viewed mothers/motherhood as having nothing interesting, real or valuable to say?
Whoa, that’s a biggie 🙂 so big, it’s the central subject of my VPL Hot Potato called Mama which was part of my guest artist performance tour with the Motherload at the Dallas museum of Art. I visually narrate my personal awakening about how The Mother, her thoughts and work, her meaning and status have been erased from – well, everywhere. I mean, it’s quite obvious (spoiler!) when you look at the descriptions of the God-Creator of the three major religions, isn’t it? Why would someone with huge leaky breasts, a ripped and bloody vagina she can’t sit on, a baby stuck to her body, her mind mash potatoes, have anything to say?
The art world is part of the world, and suffers from the same maladies as the world does. As Frida of Gorilla Girls points out ” Every aesthetic decision reflects a value system, and if the values are determined by wealthy men, then art museums are not truly representative“. And I add: most women who work in these systems and whose livelihood depends on these systems adopt this value system.
Do you feel that this viewpoint is changing? What can we do as makers to alter this perception?
Yes. The fact that we are communicating about this subject now is evidence of change. It’s not changing on it’s own accord. And it’s not without backlash. It’s changing because of our intentional work. Because of this project of yours, because of my work and the work of others I mentioned here. It’s really important to credit ourselves on this because it’s not an overnight change, there is still a long way to go, and it’s important to remember the brave ones who have gone before us and who walk beside us. They get erased because there is no organized Herstory. They are the ones who have irrigated the earth, so we can plant seeds that grow. When I started going public with my work I realized only a few enlightened ones knew what I was talking about. So I rolled up my sleeves in order to create awareness. Part of my invisible activism goes into creating public awareness, or in other words: Creating audiences for our work.
Instead of begging for acknowledgement from a system that doesn’t value community and cooperation, we give it to each other. Why is this so important? Because Western culture admires mono gods. Superstars. The “Star” gets all the fame, the center stage, the money, the opportunities. Since all of us want to be valued, and deserve to be valued, and the only way to be appreciated in the art world is to be a star, we view other similar creators as competitors. This divides. Division is what we suffer from. Mothers have been divided from everything. We internalize this division. We can try to unlearn this. Try to create a new art world or better yet, what some are already doing: make art a part of everything, instead of an exclusive cold snobbish white cube. I am developing a VPL titled “Solidarity is a practice”.
What is Visual Performance Lecture? Why is it an important part of your exhibition practice?
Visual Performance Lectures are an evolvement of all of my mediums into one medium. Each is tailor made. Meaning each is subject specific, time specific, location specific, audience specific, ArtistShiraRichter specific. For instance- my visual performance lecture tour at with The Motherload took place right after the awful war that year. I found myself doing a series of VPL’s about Mothers, artists and war.
I talk two dominant languages: Artistic and Feminist. But Art Jargon and Gender Jargon seemed to be locked inside long bombastic academic words, alienating people from me and my work. So I kept searching for ways to simplify production and communication because I have this irresistible urge for connection. I can prepare a visual performance lecture for each subject with relevant ease. I am not constricted to one place or a specific audience. I can adjust myself.
You currently live in Israel, a country that has experienced much war. How does this affect your work about motherhood/mothering?
“War is to man what motherhood is to woman” Benito Mussolini.
Until I started feeling motherly love – which is a fierce love, war was sort of a romantic idea. It took me years to realize how growing up in Israel made me internalize that war is a normal part of life. It isn’t.
There have been more wars in Israel since I was born then in any other democratic state. The words “Land” and “Territory” are mentioned here every single day on the news. “Mother Earth” is a concept connected to patriotic war. ALL sides of the conflict, fight for “Mother Earth”. War heroes and War widows are given a lot of respect and money. Soldiers are given a lot of respect. War medals are status symbols. War scars are heroic. Those who refuse to serve the army are often considered traitors. We all want to be respected and acknowledged by our communities. So this is a powerful lure. When I became a MOTHER, I realized how upside down everything is. How war activities are valorized while life producing and sustaining work/activity is belittled and devalued.
Women’s heroic birth stories are not featured on the “front page” the way war heroes are. Mother activism against war is not treated seriously. Blood connected to war is ok to show on mainstream TV but “life giving blood” of birth or menstruation is taboo (my work was censored from TV). War takes us to the brink of life and death. So does becoming a mother. Women have died in childbirth, and in many parts of the world they still die. In the United States, we lose three women per day to a pregnancy related death.
The definition of Heroism according to one site: ”Consists of putting others first, even at your own peril”. Well, we mothers put the lives of others before our own many days of the year, and it’s counted as nothing. When I looked at my post pregnancy midbody –it’s devastation, it’s extreme aging in one day, It became visually obvious I had gone through a whole life in order to bring human babies into this world. No small battle! These are my war scars. These are my heroic medals. I embody mother earth. If you want to fight for mother earth, that’s fine. Fight for a mother’s right to have a really good, free support system
Are there any projects, outside of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find them feeding your practice? If so how?
It’s all connected. Holistic. Life, family, art, activism. Artivism. Art is my life support system. When TWO STATES OF MIND came out I was (and still am) very active regarding education for peace and democracy, raising awareness about women’s voices in conflict zones (UN Resolution 1325), When The Mother Daughter and Holy spirit came out I was active on the subject of raising awareness about the cruel treatment of post partum women. The misdiagnosed and in my opinion mis-treated “dis-ease” named post partum depression. When Masoleum for the Luxurious Think Space came out I was active regarding the belittling and devaluing of Mother thinking. Since Invisible Invaluables came out I am active on the subject of Money, mothers, care work and Invisible labor. My Visual Performance Lectures with The Motherload project centered around the subject of Mothers Artist and War, a subject for which I do a lot of facebook activism. I make a point of spreading information about voices and actions who are realistically offering an option of dialogue and co–habitat.
Gender consciousness/knowledge is at the root of most subjects I am active about, I spent two years doing behind the scenes research and activism, and created the first facebook page calling for inclusion of gender studies in the formal educational system. I’m kind of a start-up spark motivator. I like identifying subjects that need visibility and become “a positive infectious virus” about them. I also try Not to Lead in the classic way leadership is thought of. My leadership is more motherlike or feminine. When enough people are “Caught” on fire with the importance of an issue, I find something else that needs attention.
Activities that put a stupid smile on my face: Riding my bike along the shore feeling the warm wind in my hair, walking barefoot on the sand, dancing to great music with souls that don’t take themselves too seriously, Singing out loud with my girlfriends or the radio, watching our cats, Saving bugs who wander into our apartment by mistake. Smelling burning sage. Sensual activities that use body, voice, ears, smell bring out the silly little devilish trickster in me. It puts things in perspective. Humor is the best medicine.
Oh, and I love doing research. Tons of it.
What are you working on now?
Do we Value our Values? Is the title of the VPL I will be giving September 2016 at the Women and Money group exhibition at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, MN Which is curated by artist Ellen Schillace, president of the Minnesota Chapter of Women’s Caucus for Art. Ya’all invited, the entry is free.
In October I will be presenting Visionaries Need Visuals; Creating online campaigns for our messages, a real story. At MIRCI’s 20th Gala anniversary conference in Toronto, Canada. (Mirci=Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement).
Sometime next year an interview with me about women’s sexuality will be published in a book authored by Tamar Mor Sela.
Finally just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs?
“War”- by Sinead O’Connor. I admire her vulnerability, courage and integrity.
“I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene – In a way, the lyrics represent The ARTIST-MOTHER conflict, in a nutshell.
“Don’t Give Up”- by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush- Lifts my spirit when I’m down, and also talks about the men’s predicament
“American Tune” by Paul Simon- I’m alright..,great realistic mantra for broken souls
“Believer” by Marla Glen –Heart wrenching song about how society abandons it’s children.
“The Ballad about the Queen and the Soldier” by Susan Vega- Spectacular rendering of how women have been occupied by dominant culture
“Millions”, by Eti Ankri- Israeli woman Singer who wrote about the inhumane economic situation long before the 2011 demostrations.
“With God on Our Side” by Bob Dylan Yup, everyone thinks god is on their side.
“Freeda leask and Shoormal Music” – Shoormal is the place where the sea meets land.