Eye Mama is a global photography project that invites anyone who identifies as a mother and is an artist or photographer to showcase their experiences during the global pandemic. The project was realised by Israeli-British photographer Karni Arieli after the UK went into its first lockdown last year.
“During that I was quite sick, but as I was getting better I reached for my camera and it immediately empowered me and gave me strength to feel things were going to be okay,” Arieli tells CR. “I was the storyteller and I could control the narrative. I was documenting my home, my family, and my kids while we were homeschooling and working in the early days of the pandemic through the fear and the unknown. It was like a crutch and a healing tool to document and take control in some way as an artist.”
Scrolling through social media, Arieli saw other photographers doing the same and she wanted to create a way to collate these images together. Having officially launched in April 2021, Eye Mama had 15,000 submissions in the first six months from around 25 countries that captured the “mama gaze” and what motherhood has been like during these tumultuous times.
The collective nature of the ongoing project emerged organically, and it allowed Arieli to look beyond her own photography practice and get an insight into others, and tell a larger story around motherhood that wasn’t just her own. “I think the mama gaze has for a long time needed more space, and a chance to be real and powerful. No fake Instagram perfectness,” she says. “The pandemic was a time to meet reality face to face. But within that meeting there is great beauty and power.”
As Arieli collates and curates the images in the series herself, one of the key components of the submission-based project was putting an emphasis on inclusivity. From the beginning it was important anyone who identified as a mother could be a part of it, and it started with the wording photographer used.
“The topic of motherhood is a sensitive one. Therefore ‘mama’ is used as a term of endearment, it’s a loose term of and for motherhood, and therefore you could be a stepmum, you could be a she or a they, you could be in a single sex couple, someone who feels like a mama and is living with children, a grandma, someone who’s suffered a miscarriage. The story really matters, so we wanted to keep this wide open so that it could really be as broad and inclusive as possible,” explains Arieli.
Though the images featured are from different artists, Ariel describes the flavour of the photos as “menacing beauty”. For her, it’s about the poetry in the everyday moments, both big and small. “There are many aesthetic similarities and similar stories but at the same time I try to curate keeping the individual voices of the mamas,” she says.
“But similar themes and content do of course come up. I noticed lots of kids in boxes because families were getting Amazon deliveries and the kids were getting in the boxes, people were spending a lot of time in bed hugging, lots of images of light and dark, and shadow light play, so there are these connecting themes within families that are really interesting,” notes Arieli.
Other themes of touch, connection, isolation, and fear of the unknown are present throughout the images, and the beauty of this is they’re universal, and just as compelling whether you’re a parent or not.
“Parenting is often overlooked in modern society and seems uninteresting or boring, but during the pandemic this changed and I think this body of work will prove that there is a lot of incredible storytelling going on behind the doors and a lot of amazing, emotional, inspiring, beautiful, heartbreaking moments,” Arieli says.
The project has grown from an Instagram account to a website, and there’s now talk of publishing the project in full as well as a potential film in the works. But for Arieli, what she’s enjoyed most has been the connections she’s made with other photographers, but also with herself as an artist and mother.
“Eye Mama has helped me find and connect to my emotional family,” she says. “Curating this body of work, being exposed to all these photographs and all these artist mamas has been really humbling.”