Apart from depictions of the Madonna with child, mothers are rare pictorial motifs in art. An interview with artist Najja Moon, who has erected a monument to motherhood.
Miami-based artist and cultural practitioner, Najja Moon, is the second of five artists we sat down with to talk about their perspective on motherhood as a topic in their work. This series accompanying our comprehensive retrospective of the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker also includes interviews with Hannah Cooke, Clarity Haynes, Lenka Clayton, and Laxmi Hussain.
In her work, Moon uses text and drawing to explore the intersections of queer identity, the body and movement, black culture, and familiar relations both personal and communal. With her installation “Your Momma’s Voice in the Back of Your Head” she erected a monument to motherhood in Miami Beach, Florida.
Najja, could you tell us a bit about this specific work and about your art practice in general?
Your Momma’s Voice in the Back of Your Head was conceptualized in response to an open call at The Bass Museum in Miami Beach. 2021 is the first year in this series called New Monuments where the museum is starting this line of inquiry around what a monument could and/or should be. I’ve always thought of my art practice as utilitarian. That the objects and pictures I make should serve a practical purpose for me and/or the public. So, the idea of working on a project geared around monuments had a lot of synergy. Monuments serve as sites to catalyze memory. My main goal was to try and be as honest as possible about the fickleness as well as the somberness and the joy of memories. And also, to have as many points of entry to the work as possible so this monument doesn’t serve only one type of person.
Something I’ve shared a lot when talking about this work is that I feel as though we’ve all “constructed monuments to our mothers in our minds”. There are affirmations and warnings or insults or stories that ring in our minds that we just can’t shake. So, this work was an attempt to recreate that psychology in a physical form. The audio components deliberately reiterating these phrases as sourced from the public while the form was covered in dichroic film, a material that has both reflective and transparent qualities. Creating a visual experience that I find mimics the evolving relationship between mother and child. There are moments when you see yourself in her and moments when you see right through here.
Wow, that is a very strong image. How does motherhood as a topic influence your work?
I don’t think I have explored motherhood as a topic directly, however my mother is a huge inspiration for me. As my practice grows, I see more of her influence in my work and have actively started to include her in my work as well.
I see. Paula Modersohn-Becker was one of the first artists that systematically explored the motif of motherhood, painting pregnancy as well as mothers and children at the turn of the twentieth century. Is motherhood – getting pregnant, giving birth, having children – still a taboo topic in the arts today?
I’ll preface my statement by saying “I have no idea”. I feel lucky to have such a diverse femme art community around me that includes a lot of mothers kicking ass and not missing a beat. So, I had never considered the topic as taboo to begin with. As a queer woman, I’ll also say that there is a different level of consideration and planning that’s exhausting before you even get to the children part.
I love that, we need (more) mothers kicking ass in art! How did the art world/audience react to you including motherhood as a topic?
It has been an incredibly positive response. And, also in retrospect, a bit one dimensional. Lots of conversation revolving around the feel-goodness of my personal relationship with my mother while often avoiding the misogyny, societal, and socioeconomic pressures that create complex and unhealthy relationships between mothers and their children.
Agreed, it is vital to look at the topic of motherhood/mothers/children from a broader maybe even more critical perspective. Last question: When you think of motherhood in the arts who comes to mind, any artists you would like to give a shoutout to or that inspired you?
I’m super grateful to have so many talented women/mother artists in my community. My own mother, Constance Prince, is a huge guiding light. There are also Arsimmer McCoy, Nadege Green, Chire Regans, Loni Johnson, Gerbi Tsesarskaia, Gabriela Garcia, Allison Matherly, Rosie Gordon Wallace just to name a few.