MAGIC, MIRTH, AND MORTALITY: Musings On Black Motherhood

Joy. Fear. Guilt. Generational connection. Grief. Deep love. These are only a few of the complex emotions experienced by all mothers. Magic, Mirth, and Mortality: Musings on Black Motherhood is an exhibition inspired by the lived experiences of writer, curator, community builder, wife, and mother Shawana Brooks. Centered in the exhibition are her ‘motherhood musings’ written and shared during her pregnancy, the premature birth of her son Roosevelt, and an extended stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The vulnerability, honesty, and courage expressed in this collection of writings allowed hundreds, if not thousands, of people, to witness…in real time…the experiences of Shawana, her husband Roosevelt Watson III, and their son.

Brooks’ words are shown alongside visual art by Tatiana Kitchen, Marsha Hatcher, and Cheryl McCain. Their paintings, drawings, and prints express the courage, delight, vulnerability, and fierce determination that mark their experiences as mothers and views of the universality of this role.

The personal views expressed in the art become socially potent in light of the unique inequities and challenges faced by Black women from maternity to watching their children become adults. Statistics on mortality rates, inequity,, racism against Black women will add to the narratives of these four women and the women who came before them. This combination of memoir, visual art, and data is intended to create a space for healing, awareness building, sharing, and collective action. These intentions will be supported through a series of programs and experiences including spoken word events, artist talks, performances, and intimate conversations that will open opportunities for people to be seen and see one another.

We are unapologetically lifting up the experiences of Black women. We do so not to exclude others, but because this is we are compelled to shine the brightest light. Yet, there are universal truths offered up at every turn. Whether you are a mother yourself or someone who knows about mothering, a grandparent, a father, or a caregiver the words and images presented here will likely resonate. And we are all someone’s child….a child who entered this world carrying a history and set of realities as unique as we are.

Yellow House aims to create a gracious and brave space not only for the artists, but also for you. There is an opportunity within the space for you to do a bit of your own musing. While we invite you to breathe in the works of Shawana, Tatiana, Marsha, and Cheryl, we also honor your journey in all its complexity.

Meet The Artists

Shawana Brooks is an arts advocate, curator, and literary artist from Vallejo, California. She is a poet, public speaker, author, performer, and writer whose art revolves around the power of expression through the written and spoken word.

Shawana is deeply interested in the comprehension of human emotion through the use of language and scribes moments from her traumatic personal experiences to create a means for social sharing. The Motherhood Musings in this exhibition are a powerful example of this process. These written reflections were created and shared through social media during Shawana’s maternity journey, from the day she learned of her most recent pregnancy through the preterm birth of her son and 99 days in the Neonatal Unit at UF Health in Jacksonville. More than a document of her lived experience, these writings serve to create a dialogue on social justice issues focused on Black women.

Shawana has had a significant impact on the cultural scene in Jacksonville in a variety of roles. She was recently awarded the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville’s Robert Arleigh White Award for Artist Advocacy. She is a recipient of the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida Art Venture Individual Artist Grant, to further develop the work on display here. Following a successful career leading the launch of the Jax Makerspace, she has landed a role working for the non-profit Jacksonville Arts & Music School as the Development Director where she continues to advocate for artists of all ages, with a strong focus on supporting artists of color. She lives in Jacksonville with her husband, Roosevelt Watson III and their son, Roosevelt Watson IV.

Tatiana Kitchen is a visual artist from Jacksonville and an alum of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. With acrylic paint being her medium of choice, she has developed a style emanating divine femininity, with the majority of her art being inspired by the life force of the universe, and the contributions and influence of humanity within that system. These images of transformation and seemingly other worldly beings are brought to life through a vibrant palette of colors and shapes that appear to shift right in front of us.

“As people, we all have experienced pain of some sort. Physical pain, emotional pain, the pain of loss or the pain feeling as though we don’t belong amongst others. I take my pain and channel it into my art, turning it into joyful, colorful scenes full of life and energy.”

Tatiana believes art to be her saving grace. As a person with a physical disability, she feels that through her artistic development, she is able to move through the world with a sense of optimism. Instead of allowing herself to be limited by her disability, she has chosen to immerse herself in all of the possibilities and opportunities that art brings to her life. As a result, she has allowed her passion and character to define who she is.

Tatiana has exhibited art in Connecticut, Tallahassee, and Miami during Art Basel. Although most of Tatiana’s works are on canvas, she is also a muralist. Most recently, she collaborated on a mural in the Wynwood district of Miami and a massively-scaled mural in the Arlington neighborhood in Jacksonville. In addition to the paintings created for this exhibition, you can see one of Tatiana’s murals on the exterior of Yellow House along Phyllis Street.

Marsha Hatcher, born in south Georgia, now lives and creates art in Jacksonville for the past 25 years. As a military wife for many years, Marsha traveled around the world and most of her art captures these experiences and the people she has met. She is an artist who loves creating art and her artwork defines who she is and what she is passionate about. Her preferred medium is painting and people of color are her subject matter.

As is evident in the works on view here, Marsha has often turned to the subject of motherhood. Images of protection, care, vulnerability, strength, and deep connection between mother and child vibrate with a life force that defies the limits of the canvas. Whether through a rich palette of color or the contrast of black and white, the works capture the gestures and symbols of the maternal figure.

Marsha has exhibited regionally and nationally for more than 25 years. Locally, she is a regular contributor to the Through Our Eyes exhibition at the Ritz Theater and Museum, and has been featured at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. Most recently, Marsha was selected to create a body of work as part of the Legacy of Lynching exhibition at the Museum of Science and History, which is part of a larger national effort by the Equal Justice Initiative to document, raise awareness, and heal from the history of racial terror lynching in America. Marsha received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Albany State University. She is a member of Hopewell, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., founding and current board member of Jacksonville Cultural Development Corporation formerly (JCAAA), and The Art Center Cooperative, Inc.

Cheryl McCain thoughtfully captures glimpses of both everyday life and the extraordinary moments that mark a woman’s journey through motherhood. The threads of connection between mothers and their daughters are illuminated in scenes from maternity to babe in arms and from moments of being playfully present to the monumental rites of passage of weddings and graduations. They are each images of great intimacy, reflection, strength, and joy. Collectively, these works remind us of the brilliance, beauty, and resilience of Black mothers, a narrative often obscured by the very real challenges and trauma they face.

Cheryl was born in Ocala, Florida, and is a retired Navy veteran, who served honorably for twenty years. Two years after retirement, she enrolled at The Art Institute of Jacksonville to study photography. After two years at The Art Institute, she left her studies to care for her ailing husband.

Cheryl’s work has been published in the Miami-based magazine Chellae and Jacksonville’s Void Magazine. In 2018, she was selected to exhibit in Jacksonville: A Tale of My City at the Jax Makerspace, and the Let’s Go! exhibit at the Jacksonville International Airport’s Haskell Gallery. She also was selected and competed in the 2019 Artfields Artist Competition located in Lake City, South Carolina. Most recently her work was displayed in the Through Our Eyes exhibition at the Ritz Theater and Museum.

Cheryl is married to Charles McCain and have four adult children: Antonio, Mia, Emanuel and Vivica. Cheryl and her husband reside in Historic Springfield in Jacksonville.

Here we are. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.

read full musing
artwork : Formula for Life | artist : Tatiana Kitchen

STATISTIC  |  In 1960, the United States was ranked 12th among developed countries in infant mortality. Since then, with its rate largely driven by the deaths of black babies, the United States has fallen behind and now ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations.

The title of mom just doesn’t sync with my previous experience… even the word, feels like it will take up all the room in my identity once I allow it to take center stage.

listen to full musing
read full musing
artwork : Little Alchemist | artist : Tatiana Kitchen

STATISTIC  |  Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants, a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery.

I’m beyond upset but it is what it is. I am only 27 weeks and 4 days, and by no means prepared for what in a few hours will change my whole existence.

listen to full musing
read full musing
artwork : Three Centimeters | artist : Marsha Hatcher

STATISTIC  |  The lifelong accumulated experiences of racial discrimination is a proven risk factor linked to high rates of premature births and mortality rates for mother and baby.

Once they exit our bodies it’s an awful realization that love alone won’t be enough to keep them from danger.

listen to full musing
read full musing
artwork : God’s Child | artist : Marsha Hatcher
artwork : Mama’s Little Man | artist : Marsha Hatcher

STATISTIC  |  In 2019, in Jacksonville, 63% of homicide victims were Black men.  Black men make up only 14% of the city’s population.

She has been our co-conspirator and for the last three months our son was as much hers as he was ours.

listen to full musing
read full musing
artwork : Tia | artist : Cheryl McCain

STATISTIC  |  Until recently, only two countries, the U.S. and Papua New Guinea, did not provide mandatory paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.  Legislation was passed in 2019, but only for federal workers.

Though a big chunk of me still feels self-conscious about bringing a black child into this world, he is here now and I want to be present for as much time as we have together.

read full musing
artwork : Footsteps | artist : Cheryl McCain
artwork : Mother’s Arms | artist : Cheryl McCain

STATISTIC  |  Black women are the most educated demographic in the United States, with 64% earning post secondary degrees.  Yet, Black women earn only 61 cents on the dollar when compared with white men.

More Musings

To muse is to think about something carefully, to contemplate, to meditate.  Now that you have taken in this exhibition we invite you to muse for a moment.  In the space of Yellow House, visitors added their thoughts to an interactive wall, extended the story set up by our artists.

How has this collection of art and writings changed or reinforced your perceptions or lived experiences of motherhood?  We hope that you will share your musing by sending it to us through the link below. This gracious space will add to the conversation about who we are, what we have learned, and how we envision a more just world for all mothers.

Some of the musings shared with us …

This is so moving and powerful. It has touched my soul.

As one who hung on every word of Shawana’s musings as she shared them in real-time, I find that experiencing them now, layered with the powerful visual works by such gifted artists, in a time of necessary community distancing, is deeply intensely, emotional. Thank you for making this available online. this exhibition underscores so much about what is happening now as we see the pandemic expose the reality behind what we have called civil society-revealing, in a global and deeply personal way, the tragic disparities and injustices in our social structures. Listening to Shawana give voice to her personal yet universal truths gives me hope that we can emerge with greater reverence for life- all lives -and work toward stronger connections, the righting of wrongs, and the restructuring true community.

The morning rain nurtures the grass to grow green. Your musings nurture the soul to grow in beautiful, bountiful and bold ways! Congratulations!

I am a Mother to many although I have never given birth. I have fed, clothed, served as Legal guardian, cried, and chastised. Moreover, I know the LOVE and sacrifice of Motherhood from my own Mother and am in awe of the mirth and magic. Hence, my charge to change the musings to laws because the statistics are as painful as Iabor.

This visual art, words spoken and statistics written bring tears as I consider the ever-present pain experienced by African Americans. From these tears come a renewed commitment to use my white privilege to create equity. I know it won’t happen in my lifetime and my commitment does not falter but is strengthened.

Mothering is an infinite journey.  When I mother myself I increase my capacity to mother and nurture others. I am so in love with this exhibit.  Thank you for inviting me along.

My mother is and always has been my hero.  Working and handling us kids was never easy.  I think I never became a mom in fear of not living up.  I admire all moms for being brave in the unknown.

Motherhood is hard.  So hard it is scary. But feeling the love that my mother gives me everyday makes me want to experience it more.  I don’t know if there is a right way to go about it, or if I am cut out for it, but I do know I will love any child like my mother loves me.

I am not a mom, but your children see me when they don’t see you.  In the classroom I’m the mom, the aunt, the grandma, the neighbor, the honey dripper lady, the lady peeking in the window trying to see what they’re doing. Sometimes I am the teacher, too…. #HiFive. We got this.

Being a mother is my most proud title, but not my only title.

We need to bring community back into mothering and pregnancy and birth.

Art Shop

Click on an image in the gallery to view details including title, artist, medium, and price. If you’re interested in making a purchase, please contact Hope McMath at hope@yellowhouseart.org for more information.

Thank you for engaging in the collective work of Yellow House as we take this exhibition online during a time of physical distancing, anxiety, and dramatic change.  Our work lives at the intersection of art and community, centering the experiences and stories that help spur us into action to create a more just world. We believe this exhibition and the artists whose works are lifted up for all of us to see are relevant at this time.  It is our hope that you find empowerment in the truths shared here, hope in the resiliency expressed, and inspiration to be part of the change that we need.

Your contributions support our mission of connecting art and community to build understanding, inspire empathy, and spark civic engagement.

MAKE A DONATION

exhibit curated by HOPE McMATH | website designed by CARYL BUTTERLEY