Cassy Oliphant: An Unintended Domestic Residency

Cassy Oliphant was awarded a CuratorSpace Artist Bursary to undertake an artist parent residency in France with her young daughter. But as Covid made this impossible, her work became even more focused on her family and its histories.

"It was such a moment of excitement when I found out that, not only had I been accepted onto an art residency designed for parent artists (my 2 year old would join me), but subsequently a CuratorSpace panel granted me funding to cover my materials and travel. I’m not going to lie, I did a happy dance in my living room. Flights were booked, arrangements were being made with Studio Garonne, the fantastic folk (parents themselves) who were hosting me and 2 other artist families. I was nervous, ecstatic, and just so happy to be taking a step further on the road of being an artist alongside having young children. And then Covid hit.

In the early days of it all, everything was so up in the air that it seemed possible that the residency may still go ahead in the June of 2020. When it became clear it wouldn't, things just went on hold. Thankfully there was no pressure to use the CuratorSpace grant within a certain timeframe so I had time to consider my options. And of course, Brexit - I've seen so many funding pots paused or concluded. It's easy for this to seem really gloomy, and I do think we have a fight to secure the funds and passages to work within the EU, now more than ever. But what has ended up happening on a personal creative level has been quite interesting.

Since I've been forced to stay rooted, within my domestic space, with one child homeschooling online and another bouncing off walls with all the energy of tiny fireball, I've truly had to embrace a residency in motherhood. I've found myself delving into family photographs, exploring my Chinese Singaporean grandmother's legacy as a mother artist (in a time and culture when women stood little chance of having a career in the arts). I've also been drawing on old Chinese folktales to understand my roots as something to share with my children. And perhaps this has come from this unintended stasis.

Being forced to pause, to do all my painting with one eye on my paints and one on my children has made me redress and reorganise how I work. My desire for them to know that it's possible to pursue a career as a parent artist is truly unavoidable as they help me clear away my paints to make space for teatime.

One of the things about being an artist is an ability to creatively respond to challenges thrown our way. This is simply one of those times. So much luck to all the parents that are trying to work whilst clearing baked beans off their kids, I relate to the struggle entirely! There are constant compromises each way – putting my paintbrush down because my kids need me to make a den, or putting on a film for them because I need an hour to get some ideas down. I do hope I get to work on the project in France at some point, but for now my creative direction is narrowing, retreating – and in doing so creating a focus that’s been really useful.

My project focuses around tiny ink pigment boxes that are part of my grandmother’s traditional chinese brush painting set. She left them to me, or perhaps they were passed my way after her death, as I too love art. She was a brilliant artist but my lasting memories of her involve her being confined to her bed in my aunt's house, as dementia took hold of her. I aim to fill the ink boxes with Chinese folk tales alongside our family stories, centering around the women in my family.

The ink boxes are tiny, but represent the smaller stories that the women have held in my family. I'm an outsider to the hub of my Mother's culture, so some aspects of our family have been hidden from me, or misunderstood on my part. I'm in a process of connecting with the matrilineal side of my family, and in particular my grandmother's role as an artist in a time and culture that didn't allow her to do a huge amount with her art.

Chinese culture really believes in remembering family and ancestors but there are also layers of privacy and secrecy within our family, part cultural and part personal. The boxes again hide aspects of our family that I want to bring into the open, but am also struggling to do so as we have living relatives who are really affected by what I choose to put out in a public forum. I intend to explore further into my grandmother's life and legacy, and find my own place as a mother trying to pass on some of these stories and traditions to my own children."

You can see more of Cassy's work on CuratorSpace


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