Mother Artist: Deb Sonenberg
Mother and artist Daphne Kingston was well into her 80s when she declared, by way of explaining her own prescience, “coming events cast a shadow”. We won’t hear more from Daphne due to health reasons but her words and curiosity about the shape of things to come have helped inspire this blog series. We will hear from mother artists with diverse practices and children in their twenties, teens and twos, all of them bravely sharing something of their busy, brilliant lives as mother artists.
We are very fortunate to have this contribution from artist, educator and mother Deborah Sonenberg. “Leaping and limping from one day to the next” does not leave her with much time for reflection but today she pauses mid-air to see where she’s been. Witnessing Deborah at work, the warmth and attentiveness with which she listens and responds to children is the first clue to the extent of her wisdom. The stories that emerge of her life as mother of two girls are the next and these photos don’t lie – joy springs up wherever she lands.
The Art of Parenting
I trained as a theatre worker it taught me improvisation and prepared me for parenting. I have worked as puppeteer, producer, film-maker, visual artist, theatre director, actor – performer, musician, writer; facilitator, mother.
Before I had children I worked with my peers to investigate harmony and dischord in the voices and landscape of cultural identity in Melbourne. During the early 80’s the voices of refugee, multicultural and indigenous people were growing louder. I wrote music and theatre works with my partner. Many other artists contributed their knowledge of the richness and struggles of their own cultural life and identity to my voice. I was passionate and very earnest. My first child was born into this.
My true nature was born with her. I remembered how to play…. to nurture and to yield. I could no longer control outcomes.
Since her birth every project has resulted in unimaginable pathways never leading back only forward toward many joys and new challenges. Those first practice notes on the cello or violin at breakfast-time moved me into a new job as artistic director of a Children’s Music Festival. I learnt to juggle their classes, dance, acrobatics, self-defence, horse-riding, a pet rabbit breeding program and reasoning with passionate little voices asserting their independence and dependence.
I committed myself to the blending of children and an unconventional full-time creative working life…. this took us to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory.
My first child was born at the same time as an ABC documentary film project which had evolved during a long stay in Borroloola before I became pregnant. I produced this film over a number of years with my baby daughter growing beside me. This became the new life for us as a family. When my second daughter was born, she slept in a basket woven by my friend Queenie. We lived there on and off for over 15 years and many projects. Our ‘home’ was a bush camp on a hill protected by 22 ancient tamarind trees shading a powerful river below. This was a robust cultural and working life supported by deep friendships, new languages, songs, stories, art and ceremony. We all grew together, a time of great political and artistic struggle and breathtakingly beautiful events – somewhat similar to parenting teenagers. None of this I ever felt prepared for, I became student and teacher with my peers, we improvised.
Generosity is to listen with your heart.
I worked as a Cultural Development Officer for the NT Government and later in regional Victoria. My work enabled others to explore art and form, identity and place. This work was shared with individuals, groups and communities. We made new work together. If I was without skill or knowledge we learnt together, a parallel to parenting my girls. As a family we travelled and worked. We introduced ourselves with songs and puppets inspired by Chinese acrobats. The most delightful puppet members of our family, the Dancing Krasnapolskis, lived in a suitcase. These puppets are now 30 years old. The children grew up with them and other puppets as family. We all learnt to give of ourselves.
The Dancing Krasnapolskis are still dancing.
Imagination is to dance with the unexpected
My creative life as a mother has relied on my ability to trust and improvise when presented with achievable and inspiring opportunities. My childrens’ well-being was the perimeter. I would never have expected such a rich journey with my children as they grew into adults. It was such a short time on reflection.
I work for a wonderful Melbourne based organisation ‘Kids Thrive.’ We deliver ‘child-led’ community change – imagine that ! As a team of artists and specialist educators our arts based programs create long-term partnerships with community organisations, schools and their communities. Together we give voice to children; their thoughts, ideas and hopes in performance.
My daughters are now in their 20’s.They both study medicine, one Western the other Chinese.
They are both healers, worldly, creative and intuitive.