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Motherhood: A relationship between mothering and masculinity

I recently visited the Baltimore Museum of Art to see an exhibition entitled, A Perfect Power: Motherhood and African Art.

This exhibition brings artworks together depicting mothers and maternal imagery in different capacities from throughout the African diaspora. These works tell a story focusing on the importance of motherhood within these societies and how mothers are responsible for the “moral, cultural, and spiritual” strength within the community.

As I walked around the gallery, I saw pieces conveying the individuality of mothers. Each piece featured either a lone-woman or a woman accompanied by another individual (either a man or a child), but the woman stood out - their womanhood was not intertwined with the other being. For example, there were sculptures of women breastfeeding, but instead of the maternal figure looking down at the child (a depiction we are used to seeing), the mother was looking straight ahead. This is intentional to keep the viewers’ attention on the mothers themselves and the act of breastfeeding separate.

There were a few pieces that really stuck out and struck me for different reasons. I was personally drawn to a set of 7 masks in a section of the exhibition entitled, “Mother Power Transformed Boys into Men.” These masks were worn by certain tribes in Africa during rituals in which the boys channeled a female ancestor in order to successfully transition into puberty.

This struck a chord with me personally since I grew up with my mother in a single-parent household. My mother has been one of the biggest influences in life and she has played an extremely large role in me becoming the person that I am today. As I viewed the masks and began to reflect on the significance of what they represented, I started to think about pivotal moments in my life that have been affected by my heavily maternal-based upbringing.

One of the most impactful, full-circle moments I can point to regarding this happened last year. I was living in an apartment with my college friend, who has known me for 5+ years, and one day we were talking and he said “[my girlfriend] said you have some feminine [tendencies]... in a good way.” I asked him to elaborate, so he continued by saying, “[You] ask [me] how [I’m] doing, and not just in a passive way.” He then added that I, “pay attention to the small, intricate things that show [him] that I care about our friendship”. ← This is coming from someone with whom I've had 20 minute screaming matches with over a game of checkers 😂😅, so I knew this was coming from an earnest place.

The other piece that fascinated me is entitled, “The Pregnant Chief”. I enjoyed this piece for two reasons.

  1. It further pays homage to women and motherly attributes in reference to leadership - something that is underappreciated.

  2. It reminds me of another personal experience: My stepfather was a single-father for many years, taking on roles that traditionally a mother would (to a certain degree/in whatever capacity you want to attribute role distribution amongst parents). The piece is a reminder to me that “mothering” is more than just a parental figure. It is a mindset combined with a set of meaningful actions.

This exhibition puts ancient artworks at the forefront of a contemporary idea, giving them more context and providing them a new and impactful meaning. I spent a decent amount of time viewing the exhibition appreciating the techniques needed to create these works as well as the artists’ thought process and the curators’ points of view. A Perfect Power made me stop and reflect while viewing the artwork and served as another important reminder to fight patriarchy and appreciate the hard-working women worldwide. The pitfalls that come with a male-power dominant world have hindered our societies in general and the lives of women and men! My personal take away is that it takes the masculine and feminine working together to create a great leader - I hope that in the future we all embrace this more.


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