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“The ethos of mothering involves valuing in and of itself a commitment to the survival and thriving of other bodies. It presents a fundamental contradiction to the logic of capitalism, which un-moors us from each other.”

— Mothering as Revolutionary Praxis, Cynthia Dewi Oka


Holli McEntegart is the Founder and Director of the Inhabit Project, she is a Pākehā Artist, mama and Full Spectrum Doula based in Tamaki Makaurau, Aotearoa NZ. 

   I’m an interdisciplinary artist, a doula, and an island named Mother to two little boys now aged 2 and 6. My work engages an audience who are often present as participants and co-creators, with projects incorporating unique materials like salt, spiritual mediums, carrier pigeons, or a barbershop quartet. People, and their stories, are at the center of everything I make. My work in Motherhood is an extension of my creative practice, focusing on re-centering and healing lived experiences through socially engaged art and a desire to unpack the complexities of who and what we value as a society, so we may explore systems of change. 

   My journey to this work has not been linear or gentle. Pregnancy, birth, pregnancy loss, motherhood and my own ongoing postpartum experience has challenged my selfhood and pushed me to the very edges of my interior landscape. I became pregnant while living and working as an artist in New York and was supported throughout my pregnancy and birth by a doula and midwifery team. I was fascinated by my body’s ability to grow life, but in all the excitement of my son's becoming, I never really considered what life would be like after he arrived. I deeply considered the logistics of course, but I could not have comprehended the seismic shifts that I would go through psychologically. Crossing the threshold into M/otherhood is both the most wondrous and challenging thing I have ever experienced, I faced myself and was brought to my knees.

   My son, Arlo, was born underwater, in a birth pool set up in my home studio. In the weeks following his arrival I had a clarity of mind and a mainline to creativity that was intoxicating. But as time stretched on, the further I got from the event of birth, the more those feelings of strength and trust in myself faded. With no family or (baby having) friends around us isolation set in and we struggled. I slipped into a state of constant and very complex anxiety. I longed to swim in the sea, to lay under giant trees and to be in community with people who knew how to hold me. It was here, deep in the weeds, that I began a doula mentorship program and a postpartum doula training, both of which would have a profound effect on me. Suddenly immersed in birth-work and the reproductive and social justice movements happening in NYC at the time (both driven in part by the skyrocketing black maternal mortality rate*), I began to understand birth, postpartum and motherhood as radical and political acts. 


   Colonisation, migration and capitalism have deeply affected care structures in and outside of the home. A bounce-back culture that values high productivity over wrap around community care and traditional knowledge has created generations of under-supported families. Societal shame around rest and the expectation of care givers to “do it all” but to do it privately, quietly and unflinchingly, separates us further from support and silences our stories. 


   We know that the more people share their stories and connect with others in a similar life phase, the more supported and less alone they feel, but as a society, we don’t really tell our postpartum stories. We center birth stories as worth sharing but generally those end with the baby arriving (or not). But what happens next? We struggle, work it out on the fly, cling onto tiny parts of ourselves as they float out to the oblivion of exhaustion. We wonder if we are doing the right thing, a good (enough) job, or just enough. We feed with our bodies and wipe snot, drool and tears (ours and theirs) with our clothes. We bend, twist, expand, shake, snap and surrender. We do our best. 


Do we even think to ask our family's their postpartum stories? 


What about our ancestors stories? 


Are we able to listen?


During meandering pandemic walks with my mama, I learned that my great grandmother, Big Nan, had her breasts bound as soon as she gave birth in Brighton, England in the 1920’s . Formula was given to the baby, my granddad John. England was a society divided by class and the formula industry was booming. She said, “...if you could afford formula you used it, only the poor breastfed". She said the binding was incredibly painful and caused blocked ducts and recurring mastitis infections until her milk stoped flowing. A generation later in Whangārei hospital my mother was born, it was 1955 and my grandmother, Noleene, breastfeed her for around two weeks before giving her a bottle. In 1980 mother, Mandy, breastfeed me for a one year and now in 2024, I have breastfeed both my son’s for over five years combined. It’s taken five generations, but we have collectively healed and rewritten that story. 


   My move back to Aotearoa in 2020 amid the global pandemic, opened my eyes to the inequities within our own healthcare system in Aotearoa. In particular, the extreme lack of maternity and postpartum care, support or funding available to birthing families, which has a direct effect on postpartum mental health as well as the general health and wellbeing of our whānau and communities.** 


   My vision of Motherhood is radical, it is my grandest and greatest protest. As an artist, I think about the intersection of creativity and motherhood as a way of making through, and out of motherhood, rather than about it. The Inhabit Project is the result of this collision between my mother-work, my creative work and my work as a doula and reproductive justice advocate. A site of public art activism and of making the lived experience of postpartum more visible.

* New York State Health Department Releases Maternal Mortality Reports Detailing Stark Racial, Ethnic Disparities. Black, non-Hispanic women had a pregnancy-related mortality ratio five times higher than White, non-Hispanic women (54.7 versus 11.2 deaths per 100,000 live births).White, non-Hispanic women comprised 29.8 percent of pregnancy-related deaths while accounting for 49.1 percent of all live births. It was determined that 73.6 percent of pregnancy-related deaths had at least some chance of being prevented.

**In Aotearoa, postpartum depression affects up to 15% of mothers after they have given birth, with lack of support given as a factor.

Maternal suicide in NZ is five times higher than in the UK with Maori women overrepresented. 

Holli McEntegart (b NZ. 1980) is a Pākehā, interdisciplinary artist moving fluidly between social practice, video, performance, photography and text-based work. McEntegart received a Bachelor of Visual Arts in Photography in 2006 (Unitec, NZ), a one-year MFA scholarship at Carnegie Mellon School of Art in Pittsburgh, USA (2011), and a Masters of Arts (First Class Honors) from Auckland University of Technology (2013). In 2014 she was an Artist in Residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Maine (USA). She has trained and worked as a full spectrum doula in NYC, LA and now Aotearoa, approaching this mahi through the lens of social practice. After almost a decade living in the United States, Holli returned to Aotearoa NZ in 2020 and was awarded the 2021 Letting Space Public Arts Commission for, Inhabit - an ongoing participatory art project to engage traditions and patterns of healing and care for birthing people, as these survive and morph through colonisation and migration. Now based in Tamaki Makaurau, her work has been performed and exhibited throughout the USA and Aotearoa.

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