Firstly, tell us about yourself! Where do you live, what sort of art do you make and how many children do you have?
I currently live in Prince Edward County, Ontario (rural area between Toronto and Montreal) with my partner, our little human, and a 17-pound black cat. I was born into an Armenian family from Lebanon/Syria and grew up (mostly) in an immigrant suburb of Toronto, although I lived in different parts of the world throughout my life (Canada, US, Egypt, Armenia). I am an interdisciplinary artist, producer, maker, writer, student and educator. My work spans across dance, theatre, visual and digital art, film and video, transmedia, various forms of writing, and immersive installation.
How do you continue to engage with your art practice alongside raising children? Do you have a dedicated studio space and routine, or do you work from home in between other things?
I feel like I have to ask myself this question every day. I don’t have a dedicated studio space or routine (yet) but am working towards that. I work from home, mostly while my little one is sleeping, but sometimes I get more time if my partner or family/friends are available to support with childcare. It’s tough. On good days I find a balance between my art and my family. On great days they all blend in beautifully. On bad days I feel frustrated and pulled into multiple directions.
What does a typical day look like for you and how much time do you manage to carve out for your own work?
Every day is a little different, but I try to start my day with 5 minutes to myself, to take a breath, drink some water, breathe, and maybe light a candle. I try to end my days in the same way I start them, with the addition of looking at my agenda so I can mentally prepare for the next day/week — finishing off with some wind-down time with a book. The new thing I started doing that seems to be decreasing my stress, is being more realistic with what I can get done in a day. Shorten my to-do list, prioritize a little better, and ask for time when it feels like too much. It isn’t easy with a working partner. And working from home really blurs all the lines. I don’t leave my work behind, anywhere. It is always with me. Some days I wish I lived next door to family, for sure.
Have you come up against specific challenges as an artist and mother? What were they and how have you navigated these challenges?
Lack of time, space, and capacity is a big one. I found out I was pregnant around the same time I was launching an arts company, going on a big tour with a play, traveling to Armenia for a creation period, got a big filmmaking grant, a play prize/commission, working on my masters and PhD… and in my third trimester I got into a car accident! It was just non-stop drama, which made it super hard to stay “calm for the baby”. I’m still processing all that pain, trying to heal from it (through art-making and ritual). Relentless fatigue and constant stress aside, I think becoming a mother was one of the best things that could ever happen to me as an artist. It has given me a boost of creative energy, and it has made me incredibly efficient! Another challenge is (what felt like) a violent change in identity and being-in-the-world. I was really unprepared for that. It took me a year to really sink into it. I’m not sure how I navigated this one. I mostly felt like I was always drowning, until one day it felt like I was learning how to tread water. I would love to learn how to swim like a dolphin someday, but I’m not sure if that is realistic. Constant interrupted sleep on top of it all, made it really difficult to manage, and there were some really dark days, for sure. Shifting relationships were tough as well, with my partner, family, and friends. Everything gets shaken up. Not everyone knows how to support, or realizes how much it actually takes to be a parent 24 hours a day. Then there are a lot of people with advice they want to share, which isn’t always helpful or welcome. Especially because we decided to raise Saana as gender-creative (we are using they pronouns for the time being). Everyone has feelings about gender, and parenting in general! It was really difficult to navigate at first, but eventually I shifted my lens around it. I tell myself that we are doing what we feel is best, and if that is an issue for others, that is not ours to carry.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
There is no such thing as perfect parenting. You’re going to fuck up in one way or another, no matter how hard you try. It’ll be okay though, don’t sweat it too much!
Who are your role models? Who or what inspires and encourages you?
I never had role models until I became a mother. Now my role models are other mothers who are juggling a lot, like me. My own mother for sure. Even the mothers who aren’t like me at all, like the ones in my matrilineal ancestry who had 5-10 kids! I especially learn so much from parents who have multiple kids, or kids who are older than mine. It’s good to see what’s coming, take notes, but mostly to see that it is possible to survive (even thrive?) as both artist and mother. A big inspiration for me were the books “Revolutionary Mothering” and “How Mamas Love Their Babies”.
How has the experience of motherhood impacted your practice on an emotional/intellectual level? Has it made you view yourself/your work differently? Are there things that influence your work now that you didn't think about pre-kids?
If I wasn’t entirely radicalized/politicized before, I think motherhood put the nail in the coffin for me. It was incredibly jarring (and deeply depressing) to see how invisible motherhood and feminized labour is in mainstream (western) society. It really threw me for a loop. I leaned into it, and read a bunch, and talked to other parents in my community, and slowly it became clear to me that motherhood is not exempt from the impacts of patriarchal violence and capitalism. Motherhood also made me come to understand mothering as an inclusive act. I’ve learned that there are many ways to mother and many different ways to be a mother. I realize how complex it is, and I think it is important to honor and acknowledge the differing struggles of mothers and caretakers (so many factors to consider… race, gender, sexuality, class, age, ability). There is also this issue of access. Depending on where you are with your kids, it is an entirely different experience of the world than when you had no kids! Not everyone/everywhere is family/child-inclusive. Sometimes (especially at airports) I feel like everyone forgot that we were all babies once. Then, fortunately, in terms of my creative work, I think motherhood was a real gift (aside from constant fatigue and stress). It is a whole other dimension through which I came to a new understanding of ancestral reclamation and futurism, which sits at the core of my work. Motherhood, especially queer motherhood, is totally science fiction for me now. I feel like a shapeshifter, a time traveller, a future ancestor! It gives me a lot to write about!
If your child(ren) were asked “Tell me about your mother” what do you hope they would say? Are there particular things you are trying to show/teach them as an artist, a mother, a woman?
When Saana grows up, I hope they will see how my work as an artist is also how I love them. When I got pregnant, lots of people assumed I would quit my career and schooling. I didn’t. I took it all on. It wore me to the bone, sure. I didn’t have the luxury of taking a break from all that momentum I’d been building for years. I had no maternity leave, and very little childcare support. It wasn’t easy. But, I knew in my gut that giving up all for Saana wasn’t my way of showing them love and caring for them. They chose me for a reason, with all the trimmings. I hope to be an inspiration for Saana. Not that I expect them to be an artist, but I hope they look at me and see a hard-working, caring, ambitious person/mother/role-model. That’s what my parents were for me. My mom worked her ass off, she raised me and worked and went to school and took huge risks. My dad worked his ass off too, and he had big dreams and he saw them through, also a risk-taker. I hope to show/teach Saana about both those things. How to build towards a vision. I also hope Saana will see how hard I fight for/towards healing, justice, and love. Even if I come off as abrasive sometimes, I hope to teach them how to be both critical and generative in their thinking. To be honest, empathic, and generous (and, if I’m being honest, to smash patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy!).
What drives you to continue to create work?
Telling untold stories. Healing community. Visioning justice. Working towards generative futures. Or maybe I just can’t imagine doing anything else.
Anything else you would like to add?
The voices and stories of mothers are often marginalized because it is assumed that women cannot be both (working) artist/scholar and parent. It’s totally fucked up, and kind of boring! My motherhood is not separate from my creative work. The artist and mother in me are not pitted against each other, as it is frequently assumed in mainstream creative industries and dominant “art world” narratives. Even in academic literature, I have to dig pretty deep to find something other than the age-old “good mother bad mother” oedipal bullshit. What I’m trying to say is… this is really important work. I’m stoked to be a part of this collective!