November 2016 /Messages from Israel by Shira Richter
ART, RESEARCH, THEORY: For the next three months we give the floor to Shira Richter, a mother, artist, activist, film maker, and educator from Israel. In the three editions (November 2016, December 2016 and January 2017) that Richter brings to us from her country and her feminist maternal perspective, we will be presented with her thoughts on motherhood, 'the maternal' and the politics of everyday life. In this first edition of 'Messages from Israel', Richter presents her interview with Andrea O'Reilly, entitled 'Motherhood a Liability or Crime?' parts 1-6. The interviews have been filmed by Shira Richter. Additionally we will be treating you to the keynote lecture of Dr. Andrea O'Reilly: 'The Baby Out With Bathwater: The Disavowal and Disappearance of Motherhood in 20th and 21st century Academic Feminism', presented at MIRCI's 20th Anniversary Gala Conference held in Toronto, October 2016.
Who am I? On a postcard my mother sent me from her orchestra tour when I was 8 she wrote: "how is the second mother of the family?" I am Shira Richter who has been doing mother work personally, professionally, artistically, academically and ethically for – lets' see, about 40 years. My mothering work started long before I became a flesh and lots- of -blood mother. Today I have combined my ARTiculating Motherhood/mothering into a Visual Lecture with lots of pictures. My focus is the value and worth of Mother work. Obviously, it's because I want my mother-work to be valued. But not only.
THE BEST PLACE IS THE PLACE WHERE WE ARE NOW
An Opening Thought
When you forget what is most valuable to you, just think of a fire. Fires remind us what is valuable to us. The fires that have devoured whole houses and forests in Israel while I am writing this remind me, once again, that what is most important and valuable to us is what we take when a fire knocks on our door; People, pets and-photos. Interesting. Three "P"s; People Pets and Photos. It reminds me of this text I wrote for Invisible Invaluables: my art project about the worth of mothering work :
"A person requested to note the most important things in his/her life, mentions his/her family, life, and those who are close to him/her, before mentioning computer software, for instance. Raising a human being is the most important and difficult work there is. There is no machine that can do it. Babies who do not receive love and care- die. Our society has invented symbols to show its appreciation: money is a symbol, documents, diplomas, merit awards of all sorts, a car and a mobile phone, prizes and grants…if life is so valuable, why aren’t those working in sustaining and creating it awarded such symbols of value?"
Celebrating our "Jerusalem"- The Jerusalem of Mother Scholars
This column post is a prelude to links that I have attached here to my interviews with Dr. Andrea O'Reilly, who to my mind has created an academic "Jerusalem" for people like me and us who study the Maternal, the Matricentric, the Matrixial, Mother work, Mother activism, Mother ethics, Care work.. Whatever you want to call it. I say "Jerusalem" because – well, I grew up in Jerusalem. I say "Jerusalem" because although I am not religious, I was born into a Jewish Family and was brainwashed to think about Jerusalem as a central national identity. I say "Jerusalem" because Jerusalem is the place pilgrims belonging to three religions come to fill their weary spirit.
The 20-year old MIRCI and Demeter Press are places us mother scholars and artists can go to, both physically or intellectually, in order to fill our weary spirits. Mirci and Demeter Press are our "big sisters" who we can call upon when the neighborhood bullies want to beat us up or discredit us. Because although many of us have sprouted our own projects in our own countries, there are still big chunks of dry desert and yes, hostility.
This is no small issue, because hostility and isolation can silence us. Isolation is a form of punishment in prisons. Isolation kills. Isolation is serious stuff. I was heart broken when I found out that the first conference in Israel, that I really felt I belonged to organised by a gender and art studies foundation refused my motherhood-artist's offer and belittled my work. My feelings changed when I heard the reasoning, because it was the same reasoning Andrea O'Reilly was given when MIRCI's funding was cut (listen to the links below).
"Hey gal, you're in good company", I told myself. The pain of exclusion is less painful when others have similar experiences. However, we want more than good company. Think about the lengths many mothers go to in order to help their child to 'belong'. We too need playdates and social status. "There are no two ways around it", wrote Clarrisa Pinkola Estes in her book Women who Run With the Wolves, "a mother must be mothered". Yes, and Mother scholars need to be mothered and supported as well. Especially when the values and ethics of care, and hospitality we are trying to promote and practice seem to be threatened every single day.
I have been part of several feminist projects in my life. It is not easy. It is not easy because the flags of solidarity might fly high, but at the end of the day the flags come down and the decisions are made by those who hold the money or resources. Money decides and money divides. Money creates castes. Suddenly all the lofty words that were said become as empty and hollow as a burnt tree trunk. The ethics that govern money are not the ethics we are working for, but they get the last world. They won the election in the United States. They taught us that those who hold money can say whatever they want, because "it's a game". You can hurt anybody because "it's just a game".
The game 'Monopoly' was created by a woman. Yes, a woman who wanted to teach children and others about the downsides of capitalism. But capitalism stole her game and today, we are happy when a Monopoly round takes away all our children's savings. That is why a sociologist whose name I forgot stopped playing monopoly. He realized that like porno, once you play the game, you become the game.
Ways The Game is Challenged
I love the way the 2015 m/other voices conference 'The Mothernists' was organized according to "The medium is the message". I know, I know, I'm writing for m/other voices column space, but hey, why not write about what I liked? It's not as if I organised the conference.
First of all, there were no parallel sessions. This means, there was no hierarchy. We had the same time and no competition for audience. We were all equally valued. We also had time to be together, cook together, and snore together. Time to just be together is soooo important. The organizers of an Israeli Palestinian conference that I attended in 2006 knew this and granted free non-alcohol drinks to everyone in the lobby of the conference hotel throughout the whole conference. What this created was many many mixed groups of people, that instead of leaving the hotel, sat together, talking. Setting stages, creating the mood. Isn't that what many mothers do behind the scenes?
Can we do this? Can we break the mold of hierarchy? There are ways to start small. For instance – On Facebook, try to refrain from sharing blogs supported and backed up by tons of money about what's her name, that famous artist who doesn’t pay her interns... Instead share m/othervoices pages, share pages by Sara Irvin, share Jane Chelliah. Share your friend's articles and quotes more than famous people's stories. Let's use the opportunities we have to consciously uplift the values that we hold dear. Famous people have enough networks and exposure. People are paid to expose them. Who really needs exposure? In Israel the voices that get the least exposure are those that want peace. The moderates. So I make it a point to share their posts. The violent and extreme ones get plenty of exposure. Media loves them. They make money for media.
That's it for now. Remember ( and I am reminding myself here as well) the best place is the place we are now. The most important person is the one next to us now.
Shira Richter in conversation with Dr. Andrea O'Reilly:
"Academic feminism ignores motherhood", "motherhood studies is not the same as family studies", "involved fathers", "women's academic success may be connected to their relationships" and lot's more...
Motherhood, A Liability or a Crime? #1
Motherhood, A Liability or a Crime #2
Motherhood, A Liability or a Crime #3
Motherhood, A Liability or a Crime #4
Motherhood, A Liability or a Crime #5
Motherhood, A Liability or a Crime #6
The above interviews have been filmed by Shira Richter. Kind Thank's for the lovely Terri Hawkes for borrowing equipment.
Andrea O'Reilly's keynote address 'The Baby Out With The Bath Water: The Disavowal and Disappearance of Motherhood in 20th and 21st Century Academic Feminism', MIRCI's 20th Anniversary Gala Conference.
Kind Thank's to Dr. Andrea O'Reilly for the permission to publish her keynote. Filmed by Shira Richter.