Past Events

Complicated Labors: Feminism, Maternity, and Creative Practice

Complicated Labors: Feminism, Maternity, and Creative Practice (Symposium & Gallery Exhibition)

February 5 @ 10:00 am – 7:00 pm

Digital Arts Research Center (DARC) Light Lab, Sesnon Art Gallery – UC Santa Cruz

Event Info

The Complicated Labor Research Cluster is an interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together artists, writers, and scholars around questions of feminism, maternity, and creative process. It seeks to center questions of care in our research and art whether they are explicit sites of inspiration and study or simply important to the conditions in which we undertake expressive practices. Through film, visual art and photography, performance, writing, and scholarship we will explore the complexities of contemporary motherhood.

This symposium, with keynote address by foundational feminist artist Mary Kelly, will create a space for critical interdisciplinary dialogue around issues of maternity, feminism, art-making, and writing, explicitly putting the 1970s in conversation with the current moment and putting writers in conversation with visual artists. The symposium is on Feb 5th from 10am-5pm at the Digital Arts Research Center (DARC) Light Lab and will be followed by a gallery exhibition and reception from 5-7pm at the Sesnon Art Gallery.

Nearly forty years after Mary Kelly’s germinal 1976 exhibition of Post-Partum Document, the work of women artists who explicitly engage with images, processes, and experiences of maternity remains marginalized and relatively misrecognized in the art world.  Despite a notable resurgence of attention to the maternal in 21st Century art theory and practice, such work is more often than not, read inside a discourse of indulgence, sentimentality, and identity rather than as representative of larger concerns with ecological systems, ethics, care, or labor.  Complicated Labors investigates this problem, bringing together historical and contemporary work addressing maternal labor to ask questions about the status of feminism — and feminist art — today.

Complicated Labors builds on recent group exhibitions on the topic, including Myrel Chernick’s and Jennie Klein’s 2004 and 2006 Maternal Metaphors and Maternal Metaphors II and Natalie Loveless’s 2010 New Maternalisms.  This exhibition addresses recent books such as Andrea Liss’s 2009 Feminist Art and the Maternal, new journals such as Studies in the Maternal, and new collectives such as Broodwork.

This exhibition and symposium are sponsored by UCSC Institute for Humanities Research, Sesnon Gallery, Porter College, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA), UCSC Arts Dean’s Excellence Fund, UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Kresge College, Cowell College, Oakes College, Merrill College, Stevenson College, History of Art and Visual Culture, Art, Literature, Film and Digital Media, and Feminist Studies Departments.

For more information including bios for all the artists visit:


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