For a good while there, after making a woman and 3 children, the glaring absence in the family was the husband character. Now this wasn’t a particularly intentional situation, I just didn’t get around to it. You must make all the toys before you can play with them and I have made a lot of things in and around this house. For my narrative, the husband is so central; the reason the house and the lifestyle exist at all, that is wasn’t necessary to have a physical character to represent him. This is the structure of many privileged homes. The fact is many husbands and fathers are absent while they work to afford the bodies that stay at home. That stay at home in this kind of home. So that’s a different story, because thinking about the people who should be a permanent presence in this kind of house made me realise that of course, there had to be a maid even before there had to be a husband. The Maid, a counterbalance to the Madam.
Let’s face it, very few women of any race would be living in a house this size, managing the sheer volume of “things” inside the house, not to mention looking after the needs of three children without help. The notion that this help would be provided by the husband is not an impossible one but in Africa, it is rather improbable.
And oh, my goodness, how can I begin to unpack the complexities of the Maid vs Madam relationship. I am totally daunted.
I have been not only a Madam myself but have also been a child in a home that employed Maids. I say Maids because there is that too. One may have one Maid for many years, but most homes will have a history of many women who have filled this role, who have worn the household uniforms. These women who in a broad sense may as well have been one person. A person who sits on the fence between employee and family member. A person whose background will have so many similarities to those who came before her and those who will follow. Backgrounds that included poverty and lack of opportunity, husbandless homes of their own and children who miraculously take care of themselves. This common background that goes without saying. Backgrounds that are inconvenient and awkward to think about let alone genuinely care about as well.
That’s not to say that there are no instances where a Maid and a Madam have done well at an arrangement that is comfortable and fair, at least, as fair as possible. In my experience however, this is not easily done. Particularly when both sides have been anaesthetised by “how it’s always been done” and the very many implications of that, from both sides.
Then there is the child’s experience of being cared for by a Maid. That added layer of mother fat, that friend, that slave, that possession, that adult authority. That rock or that hell. All the while, never really thinking about her children that are probably never seen. The children that wear your old clothes and play with your old toys. The children that are out of sight and out of mind.
I don’t present a maid in this house with any clever message in mind. I’m not inclined to offer any advice or solutions. I simply present her as pivotal must have figure. A conversation we need to have.
Anyway, others have written about it better than I can. I attach some links on opinion and research pieces I have found online below. You will notice many common themes.
Speaking of, a writing workshop will be held with the house as a stage on the 11th April at Greatmore. It will be hosted by myself and Maire Fisher.
On seeing the Facebook advert for this event, Gill, an ex-South African living in New Zealand contacted me. She told me how she uses images and objects to do a form of spiritual counselling focused on evaluating your relationship with your God and Dream work; a method of psychological counselling. She explained that she would like to try working with the house for herself. Not physically obviously, being so far away but via images of it. She enquired about the maid which I have mentioned in an earlier post, so I shared images with her featuring this character.
She sent me two examples of how she worked with the maid images and the image of the kitchen featured in the invite.
The first piece is a prayer, using the trick of imagining herself in this kitchen; the sights, sounds and smells as a reflection on her life. The second are thoughts about the maid relationship drawing parallels with a disconnected relationship with God. I think they are very interesting and for me, an affirmation that this house has value as more than just a toy. Thank you so much Gill.
I present you with the maid here today, I made her as beautiful as I could. I intend no offence, these are simply memory images of how it was and still is. How do we talk about this? How will our children talk about it? What is the future of this relationship?
The following downloads are Gills work, the first "email" is an explanation of what she does and thoughts on using the house in her work, the second and third: "Prayer" and "A maids tale" are her writing work using the Kitchen image and the Maid images below.
Painter and Sculptor