“Hiding (Trap)”: Living and Mothering During Quarantine in Brazil

By Clarissa Monteiro Borges

This article will present the photographic series “Hiding (trap),” made between October 2020 and January 2021 in the project Artist Residency in Motherhood. I subscribed to the project with the intent to create a photographic series presenting my difficulties in the house since the pandemic reached my country, Brazil. During the camera shooting, I tried to hide from my kids in the apartment, sometimes my body can be easily seen, but it´s difficult in other images to find the mother in the house.

I have investigated the subject of motherhood and childbirth in women’s artwork since my first pregnancy in 2010. With the proliferation of these important images in art, particularly after the 1990s, many possibilities of motherhood representation appeared, most of them denying the Christian iconography of the mother with a child. Artists started to present maternity in their state of independence, power,  pain, and autonomy. At the beginning of the twenty-first century,  in the United States and England, is possible to find theoretical works that began to study the relationship between feminism, motherhood, and art (Betterton, 1996;  Liss, 2009; Chernick & Klein, 2011; Bright, 2013; Buller, 2017). These texts highlighted the conflict between mother artists and feminism and emphasized motherhood as a fertile ground for artistic creation. In Brazil, works on this subject were rare and quite punctual until 2017 (Sabiá, 2015; Barros, 2016). In 2019, when I finished my research thesis, this scenario was changing, other researchers began to publish on the subject, and some exhibitions were done in the central, southwest, and south of the country.

The pandemic in Brazil has brutally affected our lives since march 2020, and the lives of mother artists were completely changed. We never thought we would be isolated for so long. All schools were closed for more than a year, and we are a family of teachers. I teach at the University, my husband is a high school teacher, and my children are in elementary school. All these educational programs were functioning remotely, so there were four schools inside the house, from 8 o’clock in the morning to 9 o’clock on some nights. In the beginning, it was a little fun; it looked like a vacation inside the house… but things got hard when we came to realize how much work there really was to be done- managing our jobs, helping the kids with remote school, cleaning the house and making food all day. The number of hours we worked before the pandemic was only possible because we had our kids in school! 

During the first six months of the Covid pandemic in Brazil, I didn’t have time, nor the energy, to be creative. I was working at the University remotely, but my feeling was emptiness. Everything I was doing seemed to have no value. Almost everything I started to do, thinking it was temporary, became an obligation. Charge children’s laptops, activate the electronic devices for remote classes, fix all the internet/microphone/camera/speakers problems, plan and make meals, keep up with the school classes/tasks/homework, and print hundreds of school assignments every week. Motherhood became a place for me to hide from my formal work, but sometimes it was a trap. These ambiguous feelings made me think about a possible escape: making art at home with my kids. We were isolated, but the house received many virtual invasions: school, dance classes, theater classes, English classes, work, gymnastics, and meetings. Some days I wanted to hide, to disappear, but some days it was good to have them distracting me from Covid or Brazilian politics. 

In October 2020, I subscribed to the Artist Residency in Motherhood, proposed by Lenka Clayton. I needed to transform my experience into art, feel productive, be seen, and do something valuable. I wanted to reconnect with my artistic self. All the work carers do at home and for kids is invisible. During the pandemic, these chores increased a lot, but we couldn’t and didn’t want to quit our jobs. So sometimes home looked like a trap, and sometimes it looked like a safe place. Family can be good to play with but also be hard to live with 24 hours a day. 

Being in the artist residency and making artwork made me feel empowered. I started to find places at home to take photographs, taking advantage of the children’s virtual activities and plays. The “Hiding (trap)” photo series highlights different characteristics of mothering experienced by many mothers at home: the anxiety to be home, the fun and playful time with the kids, the hope to get out safely, and the exhaustion of the routine. Motherhood can be both a place to hide and a trap. The mother´s body is spotted in strange places at home; sometimes, it is difficult to find it. The viewer is caught in a playful hide-and-seek game while looking at these images. In July of 2021, I wrote a little text I want to share with these images:

Since March 18th, 2020, I have been hiding.

I´m at home with my husband, two kids, and three cats.

Home is safe.

Home is a trap.


There is math class in the kids’ bedroom, in the office, my husband is teaching arts for high school, and in the living room, someone is doing dance class.

The whole world is inside my house.

What am I hiding from? Do you think it’s the virus? 

I have work to do. I´m an artist, a teacher, and an undergraduate course coordinator.

Since March 18th, 2020, my kids have had remote classes, and schools are not allowed to open. 

I live in Brazil, far from the Amazon, but the new virus came fast, there is no one to stop it. 

Government? Not here, not now. Maybe in 2022, until then we can hide. 

There are few vaccines, people are tired, and many of them quit the pandemic months ago.


The world is coming out, kids are going to school, and families can meet again.

Not in Brazil, if you wanna be safe.

It has been more than a year since March 18th, 2020. 

I feel like a boat in the sea, there is no land in sight.

I can hide.

But I feel trapped.

Today many artists and writers have strategically rethought maternity in culture and society, contradicting the idea built in the eighteenth century that placed motherhood as the only destiny for all women (Badinter, 1985). Women have questioned the restricted policies that withdraw their rights to make decisions about their bodies. The maternity revealed by women artists does not find its opposition in the denial of biological functions but in the social representations of mothering today. The maternal stereotype of the good mother is replaced by other maternal representations, revealing feelings like disgust, anger, playfulness, deception, and disaffection. We play many roles in the mother/child relationship, and now it’s becoming possible to see it in art.

Works Cited

Badinter, E. (1985). Um amor conquistado: O mito do amor materno. Nova Fronteira.

Barros, Roberta. (2016). Elogio ao Toque ou como falar de arte feminista à brasileira. Ed. do Autor.

Betterton, R. (1996). Maternal figures: the maternal nude in the work of Kathe Kollwitz and Paula Modersohn Becker. In Pollock, G (ed.) (1996) Generations and Geographies in the Visual Arts. Routledge.

Bright, S. (2013). Home Truths: Photography and Motherhood. Art Books.

Buller, R. (Ed.). (2017). Reconciling art and mothering. Routledge.

Chernick, M., & Klein, J. (2011). The M-word. Demeter Press.

Liss, A. (2009). Feminist art and the maternal. U of Minnesota Press.

Sabiá, Ana Paula. (2015) Madonnas Contemporâneas em série fotográfica: relações estéticas e produção de sentidos sobre a maternidade. Centro de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas – UFSC.

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