On Moms and Motherhood: Alee Garibay on The Artist as Mother

Photo courtesy of Alee Garibay. Art by Bea Lu

As we approach Mother’s Day 2024, Vogue Philippines celebrates this meaningful day with personal anecdotes from our collaborators about their experiences with motherhood.

Here, Alee Garibay, artist and director of Linangan Artist Residency, shares her perspective on being an artist and a mother.

Just a few months into my pregnancy, a collector asked me if I’m no longer “active” in the art scene. I was taken aback. I had  some group shows and a solo that same year, and yet, less than three months of rest, I get asked if I’m no longer in the game. This woke me up to the often overlooked reality that for a lot of female artists, maternity is a “death sentence.” A lot of artists never came back from the valley of birthing and rearing children, and those who do take some years to gain their momentum to slide into their studios—into their own lives. 

As a first time single mother then, the state of my career was not my top concern. So many unknowns overwhelmed me, and the idea of facing them alone was debilitating. Drowning in a sea of anxieties, I surrendered to a higher power, and thus I named my firstborn Alon. When I felt most alone, I realized that we are all one: just as a wave is inseparable from the ocean. His second name Manuel (after his Lolo, Emmanuel) remind me that at all times, “God is with us”.

Photo courtesy of Alee Garibay

A golden lens that really helped me get a handle on motherhood came from the grandmother of a dear friend and fellow artist, Issay Rodriguez. She was celebrating her birthday with her granddaughter’s baptismal and all her daughters sat beside her. Beaming appreciatively as she enjoyed the family celebration, I approached her, “Mamang, being a mother is proving to be a daunting role for me, how do you manage it?”  With a light, wrinkled smile she answered, “Well, I see my daughters as my best friends.” This exchange eased the intimidating weight that a handful of parenting books and internet articles couldn’t. 

Motherhood is such a constantly humbling, frustrating, fulfilling, wondrous, tender, confusing, edifying, humanizing, and precious experience. It completes you, even how fragmented or inadequate you feel or see yourself. Then again it also breaks you, and  pushes you out of your comfort zone to places and people you never thought you could be.

Of course, one never mothers alone, it literally takes a village, and a lot of grace to raise a child. And for this, I am thankful to have a diverse and resilient support system, including my husband and studio-mate Michael Delmo and our children Alon and Agos, themselves, who guides, nourishes, assists and strengthens me and my children. I still recall breastfeeding during sleepless nights, and caring for a sick baby until eventually, Alon started reading and going to school.  

Photo courtesy of Alee Garibay

Like most things in my life, it is the unexpected blessings that prove to be the best training to become a better person: I see it as a lifetime course with daily lessons. Being a mother strengthened my relationship with my own Mama, and deepened my understanding and appreciation for her.

My mother may not be expressive, but she is a doer: she cares for us practically, promptly and consistently, concocting unique formulations from available ingredients for any ailment we may have: Lagundi syrup for cough, madre de cacao liniment for scabies, boiled guava leaves with a variety of herbs for wounds and skin rashes, and so on. She’s really nifty with her hands, and quickly yet quietly responds to every need, without drama or grandstanding. Like the hardy plants she lovingly tends, she is ever-present, giving her gifts without seeking anything in return.

I resonate with “Ate” Beyonce when she asserts that “Motherhood is our Renaissance.” Being a mother created a new creative dimension in me, one that has been constantly expanding and evolving ever since; one where I can reinvent myself, see myself and the world anew; one that has taught me that I am limitless, and I continue to grow as I respond authentically, fearlessly and lovingly to my world. As much as our mothers who carried us in the womb, nurtured and molded us to be who we are, those whom we’ve carried in our womb also transforms us, to become who we must be, and who we truly are.

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