“A celebration of the women who hold up the economy with one hand and a baby with the other.”
Photographer Fiona Freund
What a buzz to be at heart of Parliament for the launch of Fiona Freund’s MotherWorks exhibition, illustrating the brilliant and bizarre double life of working mothers. Each image is a personal moment: together these stories capture the split-belonging of women’s lives, between work and motherhood.
The exhibition is in the perfect location: the Upper Waiting Room in the House of Commons, a busy thoroughfare in the labyrinth of government. MPs, Ministers, advisers, and anyone heading to a Committee Room, all pass through here daily.
In the busyness of Parliamentary business, and the firmness of political minds, it’s hard to stop people and get them to think.
Maria Miller MP, the exhibition’s Parliamentary sponsor (Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee for four years) commented that:
“With this exposure of women’s experience maybe we can open minds and awareness and make a difference to the decisions made in this place, and the impact on work and motherhood.”
What will Parliamentarians see as they walk through the MotherWorks exhibition?
They will see a mother breastfeeding at her laptop, with a toddler bouncing alongside; a Welsh farmer with four young children piled on her quad-tractor; a lady in vibrant pink dancing on a boardroom table while her children sit, sensibly; piano practice mixed with professional preparation.
They will see confidence, productivity, the exuberance of four-year olds, the mild embarrassment of teenagers.
They will see life, chaos, work, joy, love and laughter.
They will see this collection of individual personal and universal truths of motherhood at work.
Fiona shared that MotherWorks was inspired by MP Sarah Olney’s International Women’s Day speech in the House of Commons in 2017.
Sarah Olney MP spoke briefly at the launch, and explained that on day…:
“…I had spent the first part of the morning trying to get my son to clean his teeth and my daughter to brush her hair. I then travelled to Westminster and challenged the Prime Minister in the Chamber about her spending priorities for education.
Of the two things the latter was more remarked upon… but getting my son to clean his teeth was the greater achievement in many ways. It took more ingenuity, effort and emotional commitment, but nobody noticed, cared or applauded me for it.”
It was a pleasure to chat with both Sarah Olney and Maria Miller to understand a little more the particular pressures on mothers in Parliament and in all fields of work.
As Sarah Olney MP said:
“I want to celebrate the everyday, unacknowledged, unrewarded and unnoticed achievements of women.”
On reflection she realised that in her picture (displayed on a board next to the ‘Quiet please’ sign) her children are jumping off the benches in the corridors of Parliament…
(see photo at top of article)
What impact will this exhibition have, in this busy thoroughfare of Parliamentary life?
As the short exhibition-launch presentations were made, the security desk carried on as usual, directing and chiding in equal measure and volume.
The suited-gents strode through purposefully, a hint of annoyance at intrusion of our gathering in their Parliamentary-sanctuary.
While others inspired hope…
One chap halted in his steps when he realised the subject matter, stopped to look at the photo-boards and actually bowed his head a little, giving a little nod to the accompanied crowd – as if to the Madonna of motherhood herself.
And the young guy who took off his back pack, gently skirting round the whole crowd so as not to interrupt: an indication of respect for mothers?
What impact might MotherWorks have on attitudes at Westminster?
Ah, we will have to see.
As Maria Miller MP said:
“If this exhibition can make even one or two MPs stop and think, reassess assumptions, and consider the impact on women and families of whatever policy they’re working on… then thanks to Fiona and MotherWorks.”
Coming downstairs from the exhibition, we immediately faced a huge grand portrait of Queen Elizabeth I: one of the most powerful working women ever, who famously was NOT a mother. The irony of history and art was not lost on Fiona.
Meanwhile, upstairs and in 2020, the MotherWorks exhibition, resonant with humour and humanity, celebrates the extraordinary successes every day of ordinary lives.
Isabel Collins is a culture specialist, founder of Belonging Space and mother of three children, musing on the comedic gaps between her worlds – working title: ‘The Guilt Index’.
International Women’s Day is Sunday 8 March. Mother’s Day is Sunday 22 March.
Make a difference for both with ongoing respect for women colleagues and five minutes’ peace for the mothers in your own working and family lives.