Miki Shaw, an artist, illustrator and graphic designer based in London, reflects on parenthood during lockdown.
Lockdown, when it first came, felt oddly familiar to me. Not the large-scale and tragic backdrop of it, but the personal-scale isolation, and being stuck at home. I’ve been locked down in some ways since I first became a mother, nine years ago. My first baby, when he arrived, held both my heart and my body captive. The memory brings to mind nineteenth century novels and the notion of a mother’s ‘confinement’. It sounds archaic, but it’s still very real. Motherhood ties you to home.
I’ve found it difficult to do any artwork about lockdown. I think because I’ve been so immersed in it, I can’t quite see it yet. And when I do have time for reflection my first instinct is to run, to escape from it all. (Not just metaphorically; I’ve recently taken to jogging, it’s one of the few legitimate excuses for getting out by myself and enjoying some quiet solitude.)
It’s only now my two kids are finally back in school that I can start to get any perspective on it. And what surprised me, looking back on my old artwork was that I had done lockdown work, it’s just that I made it before there was a lockdown at all.
For the last few years I have been drawing moments in my children’s lives. I like to capture scenes when they are absorbed in their own activities. I’m trying to find the beauty in the mundane everyday moments that each day is full of, that unless frozen in time, and properly contemplated, would just escape notice altogether. I don’t want to believe that these moments are truly as mundane as they first seem. And the longer I look at my drawings, the more I’ve been able to unravel the feelings they bring up. That is how I compose the handwritten text that accompanies each drawing. It’s a process of excavation, unearthing what’s really going on for me when I observe each of these moments I have chosen to preserve and labour over. And there are a lot of feelings; anger, confusion, anxiety, resignation…
My Jewish upbringing trained me to pay attention to subtleties. Halacha (religious law) requires attention and diligence. I was brought up, in both senses as an Observant Jew. I learnt to scrutinize my thoughts and actions – what I ate, wore, touched. But I also learnt to study, to ask questions and never stop looking for answers. There were always ways to deepen understanding. Even though my practice has changed since then, I haven’t unlearned the thinking.
Lockdown threw me back into a lot of feelings that I’d forgotten about. Staying home, being out of sight and out of mind of others felt both protective and exasperating. There are many lockdowns in parenthood. And I’m still looking, and learning.