Sentimental to confronting: Sheree Dohnt’s depictions of motherhood

Preview

A newborn shares a moment of skin-to-skin contact on their mother’s chest. A woman lies on the couch with a cat on her lap and a child by her side, staring into the middle distance. A child holds a question card from the game Cards Against Humanity, reading “Daddy, why is mummy crying?”

These watercolour paintings are part of Sheree Dohnt’s Motherhood, showing the joys and challenges of women’s experiences of parenting. The Bunbury-based artist—and a mother herself—interviewed 14 women of varying ages and backgrounds, asking questions including how they measure success, the hardest part of parenting, and what they miss about life before children. She also requested photographs of the participants in ordinary moments of motherhood.

Dohnt transformed these answers and photographs into intimate portraits, “making the invisible moments visible”, she explains. The children are not present in all of the images, which range from sentimental to confronting. “I had to remember what really struck me, what response or what conversation gave me goosebumps, or what felt really important to them—a gut feeling of what moment was going to be portrayed,” she says. “Sometimes it was surprising to hear that my perspective was not the same.”

Dohnt was inspired by the National Gallery of Australia’s Know My Name exhibition and Bryce Dallas Howard’s documentary Dads. She created Motherhood to show a new perspective, and hopes to expand it with further conversations across even more demographic lines.

“I’m very aware of the history behind the portrayal of the mother and child,” she says. “Media puts an expectation on mums to always be positive, so the work is perhaps not showing the mums’ finest moments or most polished looks—but I believe that’s where the real magic is.”

Motherhood
Sheree Dohnt
Bunbury Regional Art Gallery
18 June—7 August

This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen