December 2017 / Motherlands by Rela Mazali in 'Messages from Israel: Violence and Female Values', Shira Richter / Part III

ART, RESEARCH, THEORY: In November 2016 the column space was passed on to Shira Richter, a mother, artist, activist, film maker and educator from Israel, to curate three editions of the m/other voices monthly columns on the topic of the 'maternal' and the 'politics of everyday life' from her particular, situated, feminist maternal perspective of mothering twin sons in Israel. In the first edition of 'Messages from Israel', Richter brought us her interview with Dr. Andrea O'Reilly, entitled 'Motherhood; a Liability or Crime?' In the second edition, on Valentines Day 2017, she brought us her continued and ongoing investigation into patriarchal structures and mother work, in her article  Mary - The Mother Whose Son Preached Feminine Values  and the accompanying video interview with Dr. James F. Gilligan. In the third edition, Shira Richter introduces us to the world and work of Rela Mazali, a feminist artist, activist, scholar, mother, daughter and grandmother living in Israel. 

m/other voices thank's Shira Richter for her tireless work of re-imagining the world from a feminist maternal perspective and Rela Mazali for her graceful and generous contribution to the ongoing conversation unfolding on the virtual pages of the m/other voices foundation. 


Rela Mazali, image courtesy of Shira Richter.

Rela Mazali, image courtesy of Shira Richter.

My chosen guest writer for this column is Rela Mazali, one of Israel's pioneer feminist writers and scholars, an artist mother, feminist activist for human rights and gun control. For me Rela is a mentor, teacher, role model, inspiration, and friend. Several times she 'took me in from the cold' when I was feeling like a crazy minority, and 'covered' me with a warm welcoming blanket of intellectual validation and respect. She knows what it is to be a feminist woman artist scholar, daughter mother and grandmother, seeker and outsider in one's own society. She knows what it is to be the unpopular one who questions the structures both around and inside of us.  She knows how it feels to forge new paths, with little support. Her writing style is one of the first I encountered which bravely challenges the structures of form, rhythm, space, voice, perspective and subject matter. She always asks who gains and who suffers from a situation, and what blind spots are we missing? Being one of the few brave women artists who openly admits the inherent exploitation systems existing, even amongst us well meaning maternal feminists, Rela belongs to a generation which paved and keeps paving the road for us. I want to thank Dr. Hadara Sheflan Katsav who curated my work and wrote her PhD on Mother Artists, for introducing me to Rela. It is important to mention the Mother Scholar lineage.  

                                                                                                          -Shira Richter


  mother lands

Rela Mazali


tectonic activity


Original ink drawing by the author [Rela Mazali] Scanned from my book: 'Maps of Women’s Goings and Stayings',Stanford University Press, 2001, p. 273.

Original ink drawing by the author [Rela Mazali]
Scanned from my book: 'Maps of Women’s Goings and Stayings',Stanford University Press, 2001, p. 273.

When she left it the world shifted. Ancient glaciers collapsed silently off the far edges of my peripheral vision, dropped out of sight without preview fanfare. Uncharted infrastructure, in place since the beginning of the world, dissolved. A fulcrum dislodged.

mymother is a dark, large, largely undifferentiated landmass, spilling off of and beyond the side and bottom of cartography. From sites outside the navigable territory of my living, the landmass protrudes. Into and around and below, underpinning upholding underlying undertowing underwriting undergrounding undervalued undermining under current. Then mymother stops. Is the ink-line her death or my disengagement? 

Below my living she is a given. A taken. For granted. Was.


Front cover, 'Maps of Women’s Goings and Stayings', Stanford University Press, 2001. Jacket illustration: Rela Mazali, First visit.

Front cover, 'Maps of Women’s Goings and Stayings', Stanford University Press, 2001. Jacket illustration: Rela Mazali, First visit.



I almost always knew that I wanted to write
I didn’t always know that I wanted to mother
equally, I didn’t know that I could non-mother
that option wasn’t even available enough to be “out of the question”
it was literally out of the question
mothering was inexorable, “what you did.”
the only available question was “when?”

When the ‘when’ and my first living baby arrived, I didn’t and couldn’t have anticipated the flashflood consuming enormity. Instantaneous inexplicable overpowering love.
And equally
I didn’t and couldn’t have anticipated the flashflood consuming enormity. Terrifying hugely expanded vulnerability. Unabating. The space I occupied in the world instantaneously engulfed an added body mass of tangible, acute vulnerability. Mine.

One of the main risks to that vulnerable new being, as modern patriarchy has taught me well and as mymother reiterated, repeated, inculcated and embodied, was is its mother. myself as risk to mychild, mymothering as dangerous. treacherous, tricky.

writermother introduces specific risks to her children, unique dangers on top of the familiar ones, the widely publicized threats of failures at mothering or downright bad mothering. 

At a point that I can’t place chronologically, one or each or all of my children either told me or let me know or somehow let it be known that heshethey didn’t want to be in my writing. Could be, it was less categorical. More along the lines of not necessarily wanting or liking to be. Could be it was more me than them, intimating sensibilities, sensitivities, individualities, irritations, rights. Theirs. Their own people – even if young ones. Owed their own privacy. Owed my respect. Owed my silence. Entitled to non-exposure in public, in writing, in my writing. One way or another, when the older two of my three children were still fairly young, I stopped assuming any sweeping authorization to write about mymothering them.

Unauthorized, I still did it.

As put, unflinchingly, by my close friend, Tamar Hager, “We take advantage of them for our artistic needs and this exploitation does not only ignore their future subjectivity, but rather ‘harms’ their present existence as subjects.” (From her article: “Maternal Autobiography as a Site of Feminist Negotiation and Resistance,” Qualitative Inquiry, 2015, Volume 21(4), pp. 366-375, p. 372.) 

In an intensive, uniquely sanative dialogue that Hager and I have conducted for decades, we examine faults, fears, fights and guilt. Both reading and responding to drafts of each other’s writing, we’ve made our ways through mothering and writing in close proximity, listening, discussing, negotiating, analyzing. Sharing, supporting and loving. This has been a vital enabling factor for both of us.

In Hager’s book on four mothers, two of whom murdered a child and two of whom left children at home for extended periods, she describes sidestepping a painful observation voiced by one of her daughters. “Years of practice in hearing without listening were being used on my daughter to prove to her that she had not understood anything and it was done only to save myself from her judgment and from the truth that she had revealed to me.” (From her book: Malice Aforethought, Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir Publishing House, 2012, pp. 387-388; English translation: Barbara Doron.)

Sidestepping my own children’s apparent preference for non-exposure or their right to privacy, unauthorized, I still wrote. About mymothering, which was is a dominant dominating experience. And, unavoidably, about mymothering them. Wrote about them.

What I’m most interested in, when I write, is doing what I’m doing here. That is, in the text you’re reading right this minute. What I’m most interested in is wording what stumps me, in a mono-dialogue, with a stumped me readably struggling to figure it out. Or setting lyrics to what I think I’ve understood, on the belief or the assumption that since it’s interesting and revealing to me, it will somehow be interesting and revealing to some others. Or verbalizing what moved me. 

On an account of mine from a few years back, when I do this kind of writing, “I am present in the narrative—openly equating narrator with real-life writer. The narrated events of the story are equally real, personally experienced, remembered and recounted. Their arrangement in this particular narrative structure isn’t mediated by an imaginary storyteller. It is explicitly my own arrangement. This is a story, then, but not a fiction. It is framed and positioned as an account of reality. It is a form of direct speech (on my part), although this speech is written and read (on your part). I have told or spoken it without distancing (my)self from substance, conversely retaining and acknowledging my responsibility for the portrayal, for the thinking and feelings conveyed, for the standpoint from which the events were lived and retold. Resisting the deeply gendered public-private divide that structures lives in western (and other) culture(s), the story offers a way of enacting through writing some of the moves of political feminist activism—that is, standing up in public and stating, while openly owning, my views; Knitting into a visible whole my self, voice, gaze, actions, words. It is a way of transgressing prohibitions, of crossing lines.” (From my chapter: “Complicit Dissent, Dissenting Complicity: A Story and its Context,” in: Ghada Ageed ed., Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences, 2015, University of Alberta Press, pp. 129-145, p. 129)

And, continued elsewhere, I’m most interested in creating “a hybrid genre, melding tale-telling and systematic documentation. It studies a sociological-political intersection of gender, class, sexuality, nationality at the site of the author’s—my—mindbody. Through narrated life experience it researches a specific matrix of power. In doing so, it performs knowing as a process, ongoing and subject to embodied limits. What is known to the first person relating [] is circumscribed by her placement: A feminized, sub-hegemonic member of the ruling Jewish hegemony in Israel/Palestine. Offered a process of knowing in this literary borderzone, readers too are invited to evaluate its findings.” (From my talk: “How do I know? Who do I write? How do you read?: Embodied positions of being, knowing, writing, reading, understanding in docu-literary work,” Symposium on Gender and Aesthetics, Sabançi University, Istanbul, November 2015)


Feminist graffiti in Istanbul, Photograph: Rela Mazali, 2011.

Feminist graffiti in Istanbul, Photograph: Rela Mazali, 2011.