Firstly, tell us about yourself!
My practice is fundamentally based in self-portraiture and drawing as a discipline, though over the past several years I have been making a lot of work using found domestic objects (used dryer sheets, old receiving blankets, lint, etc.). I tend to collect materials of family life, letting them pile up until they find their way into a project. Right now, I am collecting worn-out clothing and broken glass. My children are 4 and 6, so I am able to amass quite a bit of both.
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 work from my home studio, but my productivity ebbs and flows. At the moment, I have a child home full-time with me and I home-educate my other child part-time, and so my ability to work is limited. In the past, I have had childcare paid for through grant funding, and that allowed me two half-days each week of dedicated studio time. When I am not in the studio, though, I still feel that I am working; moving through family life, reflecting and developing understanding, letting ideas percolate… these are necessary to make art as well as time in the studio. It comes in phases. I have made peace with the fact that I am moving slowly through my creative process; not everything needs to happen all at once. I don't, however, feel that I strike a "balance." Things are always tipping a little too far one way, then over-correcting the other direction.
Have you come up against specific challenges as an artist and mother? What were they and how have you navigated these challenges?
One thing that I am working toward is integrating my art practice with my home life more and more. My children are young and it is hard for them to be involved in my work without causing damage - but that risk, the constant breakage and destruction and mess of young children, is something I am beginning to let into my work now. For me, there is too much conflict in trying to keep their influence out of it entirely.
It's also important to me that they be involved when I have work in an exhibition. They come to the opening reception with me, despite sometimes being disruptive or demanding my attention. I wore my youngest on my back and nursed her to sleep during an arts symposium a few years ago. Another time, I was speaking on stage at a performance event I was involved in, and my kids came up with me, since I had no one to watch them. The oldest ran off stage while the other had a mini-meltdown during my talk. There can be a feeling of doing neither thing well sometimes, but it's also important for them to see my work and it's important for my mothering to be visible in my public identity as an artist. I want to move more and more toward integrating these roles, working away at the conflict between them until they can coexist more peacefully alongside each other.
In terms of the emotional or psychological challenges, I have spent a lot of time feeling like a failure as a mother and as an artist, grappling with imposter syndrome and the ways in which my life does not meet others' expectations of me. I don't think of financial success as necessarily linked to artistic success, but I do feel somewhat compelled by peer recognition. Do other artists think I'm any good? That is a question that is valid and also dangerous. I want feedback from other artists, but I don't want to make work in the hopes that someone else will approve of me or grant me legitimacy. Ultimately, I wonder why we are even thinking about success. Is that even the right question? Success is tied into capitalistic, competition-based ideas about human value and productivity. Western (especially North American) culture fetishizes idealized motherhood and makes it about success. But if it is about success, it is also about failure, about being inadequate.
I'd like to move toward an art-making and a mothering that is rooted in adequacy.
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?
Having children has been of enormous benefit to my art practice. As someone who finished art school very young and hadn't done much else, my work was impoverished from lack of experience. Mothering has introduced such intensity of experience to my life and my work. Everything is more nuanced now; there is no ability to think in black-and-white terms while parenting. I have greater sensitivity to difference and to ways of seeing that are outside my own perspective. It has also helped me begin to learn compassion for myself and for failure. Failure is essential to mothering and to art-making. I was always so terrified of failure. Now I meet failure all the time, when I'm out getting groceries with my kids, or trying to write a grant application and my children are wanting to play and something has to wait. It's uncomfortable, but we're getting used to each other. I am constantly failing my kids, and constantly apologizing and trying again. I don't mean that I'm a bad mother (I'm okay). I mean that it's not possible to be good at mothering all the time; it pushes us too far. And it's not possible to be pushing yourself in your work and not failing all the time too. So motherhood is helping me learn how to accept that.
Laura Ajayi (BFA ‘09, University of Lethbridge) is a mother-artist and educator based in Ottawa, Canada. In addition to the productive work of mothering, Ajayi has exhibited her work across Canada and facilitated studio arts programming in Ontario, Alberta and Nunavut. In 2018, her collaborative exhibition with April Matisz, Mama, Mommy, Mother, Mum, was shown in The Gallery at Casa in Lethbridge, Alberta. She has been featured in publications in New York and the United Kingdom and has recently been accepted to the MOTHRA Parent-Artists Residency on Toronto Island.
Ajayi has an immersive, home-based practice that is informed by the sensory and intellectual load of domestic life and child-rearing. Rooted in the tradition of self-portraiture, Ajayi works primarily in drawing, fiber arts and photography to explore relationships between sensuality and domesticity, perceptions of feminine identities, and the (abject) maternal.