Karen Pearlman


BRAVERY is empathy, clarity and decisiveness in the heat of the moment

What To Name Your Baby - Karen Pearlman and Sam Allen, 300 dpi photo by Michael Simmons (c) 1994

‘What to Name Your Baby’ Karen and son Samual Photo: Michael Simmons (1994)

Am I a “mother artist”?

I have made a practice of asserting, through my work, that family is creative, that being ‘radical’, ‘disruptive’ or ‘challenging’ with art does not necessarily mean being alienated, bitter, ironic or angry at your family.  That we do not need to buy into the stereotypes and genre conventions of family as oppressive, alienating or irrelevant to make artwork that is challenging.  I assert that creative family narratives are challenging and deeply disruptive to right-wing politics and prescriptions and also, by virtue of their different and radical ideas about family, to the unspoken but iron-clad genre conventions of much ‘avant-garde’ art.

Here’s how it works:

The political right has acquisitioned and quarantined ‘family values’.  We see the condition of an entire planet, and a massive political economy, built on this co-opting of an idea and inscribing it with the monolithic premise that the stable middle class family is an ideal, sacrosanct, uniformly expressed value.  These ‘family values’, in right-wing speak, are what we come home from war for, and what we go to war for; they are what keeps the capitalist system functional and what capitalism, therefore, conserves.  This ideal brought us such all-time hits as the baby boom, the suburban home, petrol-guzzling cars, the ‘house wife’, and patronizing and prescriptive education systems.

Karen and daughter Jadzea Photo: Christophorus Verheyden

‘…the dancer from the dance’ Karen and daughter Jadzea Photo: Christophorus Verheyden (2007)

Looked at from that perspective, ‘family values’ have to be opposed.  We must find other ways to live – to create sustainability, diversity of minds and ethnicities, and rights for women and children.  This has been the job of the left – to oppose the soul crushing ‘values’ that justify war and exploitation.  Left-leaning artists do this with their work – they make work that is ‘challenging’, ‘disruptive’, ‘cutting edge’, and so on, in opposition to the stasis of a monolithic value system.

But the collateral damage here, intentionally, or unintentionally, is to family itself.  By lumping family into the ‘family values’ matrix and associating it with the right wing agenda, the right wing has perpetrated an outrageous act of thievery and deceit and the left-wing has let itself be robbed.  This is the premise of my work.

'The Dancer from the Dance', Karen with daughter Jadzea, son Sam and partner Richard James Allen

‘…the dancer from the dance’, Karen, daughter Jadzea, son Samual and partner Richard James Allen Photo: Ehran Edwards (2013)

IMAGINATION is your brain generating connections, ideas and the future

My political action is to liberate family from ‘family values’, to allow for the possibility that love is a cutting edge force, that human relations across generations are creative, that family is a radical left-wing space, or at least could be.  I aim to take the human right to a creatively energetic family life back from conservative politicians (and, by virtue of their having been robbed blind, some left wing artists) who equate family with staying home and buying laundry powder.

I have created work that is specifically, intentionally and politically work of a “mother artist” for 20 years, but never called myself that.  I am delighted to join the community of like-minded women who create art in the space of family.

GENEROSITY is the ability to let others be their best selves

Dr Karen Pearlman is co-creator, with Dr Richard James Allen and The Physical TV Company, of The Physical Family Series, an ongoing series of dancefilms made at intervals over the last 20 years.  These ‘stories told by the body’ are hybrids of fiction and auto-ethnographic documentary revealing the lives, dynamics and creativity of a family from the birth of the first child (What to Name Your Baby, 1994), his assimilation into a dance company (Sam in a Pram, 1996), the second child’s influence and identity (Down Time Jaz, 2004)  and the transition of the outspoken and articulate children into young adults (“…the dancer from the dance”, 2013).

 A Mother Artist? Family as Political Activism written for the Mother Artist Network by Karen Pearlman © 2014