Sunday, April 8, 2012

“Here, mothers are…” a public art experience in Milwaukee

On the corner of 24th and Locust is a sight that is all too common in Milwaukee and elsewhere – a foreclosed home with boarded up windows. But if you drive by there now you will be surprised to discover something much less common: art.

Mural-sized photographs are mounted over some of the boarded windows and doors. In one of the murals a brightly illuminated chandelier blazes invitingly as if from inside the house.

If you don’t stop your car and look more closely you won’t notice that there’s even more to the image. In the top corner are the sobering words, “She didn’t trust me,” and then at the bottom of the picture the enigmatic disclosure is counterbalanced: “but I wanted that trust from her.”

The suite of murals and texts that adorn the vacant house are part of a multifaceted project by artist Sonja Thomsen and storyteller Adam Carr. The project is called “Here, mothers are…,” The dangling sentence is intended to stimulate reflection and elicit thoughtful reminiscence and discussion about personal and universal notions of motherhood.

Working with the Dominican Center for Women and the Amani neighborhood where it is located, Thomsen and Carr began conducting interviews with women and their families three month ago. They documented their encounters with photography and audio recordings.

Across the street from the Dominican Center for Women, 2470 W. Locust, and next to the foreclosed home is a tiny pocket park that has been turned into a “pop-up gallery.” This is where you can find a public art display of images, text, and interactive audio based on the interviews.

With help from the City of Milwaukee and the Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation, the nondescript lot has been turned into a clearly defined public space. Additional improvements are planned.

The display officially was unveiled Saturday morning, April 7, with a neighborhood reception followed by public opening. An enthusiastic crowd basked in the warm sun as well as the warmth of emotion created by the community gathering around the art works.

In addition to viewing the murals and reading the texts, visitors to the site can activate excerpts from the recorded interviews by pushing a doorbell button on one of the display panels. Introspective and intimate moments are translated into shared and public experiences. Voices fade into one another in a montage, each a consideration of women and motherhood.

“When I look at parents now I don’t even know how I had the energy to do it…” intones one of the voices.

Participants at the opening were encouraged to take a yard sign designed by the artists and to help spread the message into the wider community. Each yard sign bears the title phrase, “Here, mothers are…,” with its explicit invitation to complete the sentence. Someone in the crowd had used a marker to say, “Here, mothers are heard.” The signs were inscribed various languages, indicating the cross-cultural appeal of the concept.

The current installation will remain through October.

Thomsen and Carr intend to continue adding to the project throughout its duration. They have also built a website for archiving and disseminating the materials they collect. A visit to their website will provide a flavor of their creativity, but a visit to the Amani neighborhood and the installation site will provide a truer insight into the community spirit of this project.


  1. Thank you Eddee for this comprehensive review. Now I feel I really really want to see the installation. What a sensitive, creative, thorough holistic approach. Cudos to the two artist/collaborators.

  2. This is a fantastic idea, and of course, another interesting and well-written review, Eddie. Always love reading them.
    Grace M Matson