This is my story of severance.
It explores the relationship I had with my mother and my own inability to become one. It is a photographic performance of being cut from the role of daughter while at the same time denied a maternal role to shape my future.
We had been tentatively making work together using a single disposable camera, taking photographs of our own lives. I would take one and send the camera to her in the post; she would do the same. We tried to communicate through this process.
Not long after my fertility began to unravel. I was unable to concentrate on my story because it was then we both found out she was going to die.
I dismantled my existing life to relocate and care for her, my second parent dying of cancer. In the immediate moment I was concerned with the gesture to record her as she was but felt the photograph’s inability to do this. I photographed myself responding to the surroundings, to negotiating space. Once or twice I asked my mother to photograph me, echoing the way we had used a camera only a few months before. I tried to make sense of things that had no sense except sadness.
I jostled with several personas during this period – wife, daughter, sister, artist. I gained new roles and became Carer. I became child-less…. or child-free. We strived to understand and love each other more completely; we looked at each other seeking resemblance, resentment, entanglement and reliance. I became Orphan. An orphan.
I put on her chemotherapy wig afterwards – it was the only thing that smelled of her. I burned, buried and embellished photographs of us. I performed my grief and began to stitch. I cried a lot for her. I cried for my loss of feeling the hug of her body, her touch, her laugh. I cried in sorrow at the abrupt suspension of future narratives, for the mother I would not hold again and for the child who would never hold me.
About Jessa Fairbrother –
Jessa Fairbrother is an award winning artist with a practice focussed on feelings and the body, using photography, performance, and stitch. Initially training as an actor (1990s) and completing an MA (Photographic Studies, University of Westminster 2010) underpins her knowledge of how artwork and audience collide. Her expanded use of stitch is underpinned by training in historical hand-embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework through a QEST scholarship received in 2019.
Solo exhibitions include The Photographers’ Gallery, London (The Print Sales Gallery, 2019, who represent her as an artist), and Birmingham City University (2017). In 2020 she was commissioned by Wellcome Collection, illustrating work for their Digital Stories section, and again in 2022.
‘Conversations with my mother’ (2012-16), her study of maternal grief, has been noted for significant contribution to understanding mourning with scholarship by art historian Jennifer Mundy published in Tate Papers (2020) and conference presentation at The Freud Museum, London (2018). A substantial amount of this work was exhibited at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 2021, presented as intervention in the main collection for Bristol Photograph Festival. The artist-book of this work is held in UK / US collections (Tate Britain, V&A, Yale Centre for British Art, Museum of Fine Art, Houston). Her work is also included in the extensive survey Body (2019) by curator and art historian Nathalie Herschdorfer.
Receiving a-n bursaries in 2016 / 2020, a 2020 Arts Council England (ACE) Emergency Grant, and most recently a Developing Your Creative Practice grant (2021), also from ACE, have supported ongoing research on her long-term work a Fencing Manual for Women.
Other notable mentions include shortlisting for Jerwood Open Makers (2017) and winner of the GRAIN portfolio prize (2017).
Jessa is based in Bristol, UK