5 - 9 February 2013
No-one to Bestow was originally exhibited as part of the 2012 E17 Art Trail, and the inspiration came from the theme for the Art Trail, Bestow.
For his own Art Trail exhibition, my friend Fabien decided to follow the Bestow theme and photographed Walthamstow residents with a cherished object bestowed to them, and he photographed me with the beautiful wooden doll’s house my Grandfather made for me when I was a little girl. I started to think about the doll’s house, and how as I grew up I’d always imagined I would pass it on to a daughter. I realised that as I don’t have children I have no-one to leave my things to. I have always wanted to have children, though at the age of 42 I realise this is increasingly unlikely, and this is something I’m trying to come to terms with.
I wanted to explore the theme of being childless, or child-free - a conscious decision not to have children. I was particularly interested in the stereotypical role of women as mothers. Historically, and in many countries still today, women are expected to reproduce. Their only role in life is to bear children. Therefore if a woman doesn’t have children, like me, what is her role? Is this acceptable in today’s society? Are we perceived as not fulfilling our potential, are we not quite “real” women?
I contacted a dozen female friends I know who don’t have children for various reasons, asking them if they would like to participate in my exhibition. The response I got was mostly positive, from women who were very keen to be involved and tell their own stories. Some friends were reluctant, as they were concerned that the process would bring up feelings and issues which they were perhaps not yet ready to explore.
I emailed a series of questions to each of the women, asking them to answer whatever they felt comfortable sharing. Their replies, in all their frankness and honesty, form the basis of this exhibition. Some of the women have always wanted to have children, and feel sad that they have never had the chance to fulfil this dream - whether through age, infertility, or just simply not meeting the right man at the right time. Some have never wanted children and feel completely fulfilled with their lives.
My final question to everyone was “Are you happy with your life right now?” The unanimous reply was “Yes”. The women who would like to have had children have all found other meaningful ways to fill and enrich their lives.
The edited responses to my original questions are hand written onto lengths of paper, telling each woman‘s individual story. I have painted portraits of those who were happy to be identified, while others chose to remain anonymous. An outsized wooden clock tick-tocks in the background. A golden thread is suspended between the portraits, connecting their lives and stories. Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to participate, by writing their own stories onto paper tags supplied, and tie them onto the thread with white ribbons.
I feel privileged to be able to tell these women’s stories, and I thank them all for having the courage to take part. It has been an emotional but ultimately very positive experience.
About the artist
I graduated from Norwich School of Art in 1992 with a BA (Hons) degree in Illustration, and I’m a freelance illustrator, artist and muralist. My art is inspired by many things, from nature, science and fairy tales to the urban landscape, particularly the London skyline.
In 2005 I founded Little Angels Murals, and have painted murals in private homes, nurseries, schools, and the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre. I’ve lived in Walthamstow since 2007 and have taken part in three E17 Art Trails.
In 2008, after more than a decade of working in various art and design project management roles, I decided to take the plunge and gave up the safety and security of a full-time job to become a self-employed freelance artist and illustrator. There have been tough times, but I’ve never for once regretted the decision.