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Interview with Photographic Artist Maisie Cousins on Motherhood

Can you provide a short one-paragraph introduction to your life and work? 

I am a multi-disciplinary artist working predominantly with photography. I explore themes of decay, desire, sexuality, waste, indulgence and consumption. I grew up in London and now reside in St Leonards-on-sea after having my daughter 3 years ago. 

When did you first know you wanted to become a photographer? 

Out of necessity – I needed a creative outlet as a teenager growing up in a tiny flat and photography was something I could keep on my computer, out of the way! I started shooting 35mm film and uploading onto websites like Flickr and Tumblr, where I ended up meeting most of my closest friends through a network of young photographers. 

Can you name 3 women who have inspired/informed your artistic practice?

When I was younger I loved artists like Paula Rego, Pipilotti Wrist and Nan Goldin. These days I’m more inspired by other women in my life. No one famous or anyone on any pedestal. Life is different for women artists now, I find other artists less and less relatable. It’s harder to be an artist if you’re from a working class background. I admire women I know who are strong and real and funny. I feel incredibly lucky to have my mum and very lucky to be represented by T J Boulting, who is run by Hannah Watson single handedly.

What pushes you to challenge societal constructs around the body, femininity and beauty?

The lack of interest in the mainstream ideals of beauty and expectations. I don’t find it desirable, or find people who need to fit themselves into these moulds interesting either. 

Has your approach to creating work changed in any way since you became a parent?

Absolutely. Before I would stay up til 4 am making whatever I fancied, indulging in ideas and living at my own pace. Now I cannot do that! It’s been nice learning how to slow down and sit on ideas for a while. It was a complete shock to the system at first and made me realise I had been living in a very unconventional and slightly unsustainable way for a long time. Ironically all the mess I would be creating in studios actually came true, it was like my wish had been granted for a non-stop chaos and mess machine. 

Do you feel there is still a lot of stigma around being both a parent and an artist exploring erotic imagery?

I dont know. I think that’s perhaps because without sounding too arrogant I really don’t care about other people’s opinions on my work. I make it to figure out my own thoughts and feelings, I don’t even intentionally make things erotic anymore that must be ingrained in me. I have never faced any stigma, but that might be because I’m ignorant to it. 

Societal messages about mothers indicate an incompatibility between motherhood and sexuality – is this something you’d ever explore in your work or be particularly vocal about?

Being pregnant and becoming a mother was the most sexy thing I have ever experienced. So full of literal life. Even the pain of giving birth, that was like nearly dying. It’s sexy because of how empowering it is, and how much you then block out everyone else. It’s the most romantic thing. 

What does the word ‘Motherhood’ or ‘Mommy’ mean to you?

A nurturing person of any description. 

What changes would you like to see for young parents and professionals in your industry?

Where to begin…  Maternity leave for both parents would be good. 

Can you tell us about a past project/collaboration you are particularly proud of?

Bjork wanting to work with me was really life-affirming. I also love working with make-up artists and have also really enjoyed exploring the female body with artist Micheala Stark.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects/direction you’d like your work to take? 

I have a project with digital artist Lucy Hardcastle coming up in April. We’ve been exploring the hidden feminine alchemy through moving images. Then in May a solo show at T J Boulting which is quite a new direction for me. It’s about nostalgia and that frustrating feeling of not being able to remember things.