MOTHER TONGUE CityScape community artspace

What is motherhood? What does it mean to be a mother? These questions are explored in Mother Tongue at CityScape Community ArtSpace.

Our mother tongue is the first language we learn, the sounds we hear and know to repeat and attach meaning. Perhaps our first tongue is our mother's heartbeat, the sound of being surrounded and protected, two bodies, synced and inseparable. This unification is where motherhood begins.

This connection has been the basis for when we speak about motherhood. It is expected for mothers to express love, tenderness, willingness, fulfillment, and make every effort to maintain this bond and for mothers to replace themselves with their children and sacrifice themselves for their child.

Statement from the participating artists.

Artists Sara Khan, Laura Rosengren, and Katherine Duclos address the complex range of emotions and practices inherent in the life-changing transformation motherhood brings.


Katherine Duclos' work examines the weight of sustaining life with her body and explores this subject using collected breastfeeding and pumping paraphernalia donated by other mothers. These objects are strange and unrecognizable to those unfamiliar with baby feeding. Still, to mothers who know, the objects become symbols that speak to 'the machine' of the female body and the supply and demand process of pumping, feeding, and devoting your body to another. Duclos uses cement to signify this burden's weight and paints with donated expired breastmilk that mothers have kept in their freezers long after their babies stopped feeding.

This body of work began in January 2020, in response to my own experience, breastfeeding and pumping milk for my daughter. The emotional weight that surrounded feeding my baby, the anxieties and feelings of inadequacy, mourning the breastfeeding experience I had hoped for, and struggling to process all of it, led me to shift the direction and substance of my work. I began collecting the paraphernalia of breastfeeding and pumping from other mothers, first from my own community and then from mothers I didn't know as far away as New York.

I collected hundreds of pumps, pump parts, bottles, nipples, expired frozen breast milk, and more from mothers who were eager to participate in a project that gave voice to an experience that wasn't discussed much outside of mom groups, la leche league meetings, or with a lactation consultant. Breastfeeding is intimate, a bonding experience, a forever connection between mother and baby. Pumping is the industrialization of this process, something opposite the intimate, bordering on the grotesque.

It is still done in closets, hidden away, unseen by those who have not done it. These pieces (and many more from this body of work) attempt to make these experiences and the emotions surrounding sustaining life with our bodies more visible in a non-idealized way, but true.

The sculptures are donated bottle nipples cast in cement to signify the weight of this burden. These pieces are ongoing, and my goal is to cast every nipple I have received, which is hundreds. The second material I have used is donated expired breast milk. A freezer stash is many things to many mothers. It is security, time spent, effort, struggle, each mL fought for, machine sucked from your body, maybe to be able to have some freedom, maybe just in case, maybe to go to work or on a trip, maybe for a partner to participate in feeding. Whatever the reason for pumping, the frozen bags of milk are heavy with emotion and hard to let go of. But women gave it to me, all expressing relief and happiness the milk wouldn't go to waste, that it could be used for something. So, I painted with it.

This work is ongoing and developing rapidly in several directions, including sculptures, mobiles, sound installation pieces, and paintings that do not include breast milk. The pieces submitted here are a very small portion of this body of work, and more can be seen on my website and Instagram.

Katherine Duclos, Family (First Born), 2021, cement and pigment, 12.75" x 2" x 2", $500 (detail)
Katherine Duclos, Stash 3, 2021, cement and pigment, 6.5" x 6.5" x 3.5", $400
Katherine Duclos, Artifact 3, 2021, cement, pump flange, 5" x 4.5" x 4.5", $400

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Sara Khan's work speaks to the ambivalence that the experience of motherhood brings with it, re-examining the process through which women are physically and emotionally disfigured during their transformation into mothers. To Khan, motherhood is a series of extremes, a balance between growth and withering away; Mother as a fertile garden, mother as a body, emotions unravelling, and coming together again. Her artwork, with its delicate lines and decorative elements, balance this turbulence.

I scrutinize the duality found in ordinary spaces and situations and question the normalcy of the seemingly mundane matters in life. For example, how a man inside a woman leads to the birth of another human; turning the woman into a mound of soil in which a human germinates like a plant from a seed, and in the process, disfigures the woman to the limits of possibility.

More recently, I've been observing myself as a mother. The emotional extremes I've felt through motherhood are more drastic than anything I've experienced before in my life. There are moments of utter madness, where I find myself doing a crazy war dance, while on the other hand, there is sanity in that madness. My body feels like a garden, a space of growth and comfort, and torn and broken at the same time.

Khan was born in Birmingham, U.K., in 1984 and raised in Lahore, Pakistan. She holds a BFA Hons from the National College of Arts, Lahore (2008). She was featured in several national and international group exhibitions and selected as one of 13 international artists for the Bag Art camp, an international art residency in Bergen, Norway (2012). Khan was selected to be a part of the 13 Satellites of Lahore, a public artwork shop held at the Annemarie Schimmel Haus, Lahore (2006). Khan lives and works in Vancouver.

Sara Khan, In Search, 2020, watercolour on paper 5" x 5", $200
Sara Khan, A Hidden Garden, 2021, watercolour and gouache on paper, 7" x 9", $350
Sara Khan, Mother, 2018, watercolour and gouache on paper, 22" x 30" (diptych), $1,900

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Laura Rosengren's work reflects on motherhood, labour and domesticity. The images create stories of domestic rituals that are both familiar and strange. The paintings, both specific and vague, highlight the instability of memory carried in our bodies, objects and photographs. Introducing materials like wool, wax and processes like scrubbing and stitching the work also amplifies the nature of mother work with its material disruptions and accommodations.

"The work I have been making draws inspiration from the various rites and rituals of motherhood. It draws on the tensions between truth and subjectivity in images of mothering. The images create a recollection that might be warm but isn't trustworthy. They contain anchors and reference points but also slippages and distortions.

I work in various media, including watercolour and oil paint, but also incorporate textiles and wax often as a means to disrupt the surface. I am interested in how the particularities of paint application can both suggest and limit interpretation. For me, the "expressive" mark is important, but it also contains a certain legacy of masculinity and myth. Thus, I respond to the gestural impulse with calculations, interruptions, and cancellations.

Being both an artist and a mother, I often work in a perpetual state of interruption. Spending time at home with my children, I am immersed in a laboratory, constructing the conditions for growth in the various spheres of my work. Time and creative explorations are often fragmentary and fleeting, merging and overlapping as I find ways to incorporate and extend interruption into this work."

Laura is a Vancouver transplant, originally from Northwestern Ontario. She is interested in the intersection of histories (personal, social or cultural) and their attendant beliefs and practices. She currently divides her time as a parent, artist and teacher. Laura has a BFA from the Alberta University of the Art, a BEd in Art Education from Mount Saint Vincent University and a MATS from Regent College.

Laura Rosengren, Stepping Out, 2020, oil and wax on paper, 24" x 30", $975
Laura Rosengren, In the Kitchen, 2020, watercolour and felt on panel, 12" x 12", $325
Laura Rosengren, Tongues, 2020, oil and wax on paper, 36" x 48", $1,950

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For sales enquiries or more information please contact George Harwood Smith, Exhibitions Manager at george(at)northvanarts.ca

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About North Van Arts

North Van Arts, founded in 1969 as The North Vancouver Community Arts Council, is a grassroots, social-profit, charitable, cultural organization dedicated to maximizing the arts' intrinsic value in all media. Our mandate is to enable emerging and professional artists in all disciplines, to bridge cultures, and to build strong and healthy communities through the arts