Myesha Callahan Freet on Love and Letting Go
April 03, 2023
By Francesca Du Brock, Chief Curator
Myesha Callahan Freet grew up in a large family near Houston, Texas. Surrounded by siblings and cousins, she was nurtured into what would become her art practice by her storyteller mother and grandmother. Her first memories of performance are rooted in time spent outside at the park, playing, and acting out stories with her cousins and siblings. Later, when she had her son, Vassar, and married her partner, Christian, she naturally gravitated toward developing a collaborative practice with her family.
“I always like to use simple tools and what I have around me,” Callahan Freet reflects. “Often, what I have around me are people. My family has always been part of this. We’re championing each other in this life, so it makes sense to work together.”
The artist, in the middle in the front row, with siblings and cousins at her grandparent’s house in the summer of 1994.
Perhaps in part because her art practice has evolved in tandem with her role as a mother, Callahan Freet prioritizes accessibility and immediacy in her approach to art making. Making use of what is at hand, Callahan Freet films and shoots much of her work on an iPhone. When the pandemic hit, she and her husband converted their garage into a studio and performance space. Their videos feature family members clad in black clothing, enacting repetitive or durational gestures against the white garage background, or outdoors. Callahan Freet believes that her job as an artist is to help demystify the process and invite others to discover their own creative gifts.
Video still of Through Hoops, 2021.
Callahan Freet uses simple documentary methods to capture the entanglements of family life, plumbing concepts of intimacy, vulnerability, interdependence, and selfhood. A recent project, Share the Load, asks mothers to donate keepsakes from their children’s past. Callahan Freet meticulously scans these mementos—often careworn objects such as stuffed animals, blankets, and little trinkets—and adds digital files of each collection to her archive. She does not return the items. The work, she says, is about “questioning and embracing the ritualistic acts of motherhood, examining what we are attached to and whether we can detach from it.”
Another recent performance work, Nurture, a collaboration with her son Vassar, mediates on love, impermanence, and learning to let go. Over the course of the performance, she carefully tends a golden pothos plant, a stand-in for her son, while a scripted audio with his voice plays. The script ends with the refrain, “love me, let me go,” at which point Callahan Freet gifts clippings of the plant to each of the audience members. The piece, she says, is an exercise in understanding a mother’s role in raising children who will eventually go out into the world and bring others joy—and not holding on too hard.
The artist performing Nurture at the Bunnell Street Art Center as part of the exhibition MOTHER in 2022. Photograph by Brianna Allen.
“I hope these moments are relatable to all families. We all come from some kind of family, or we make our own family. My work is about love and relationships and recognizing that we only have a certain amount of time together.” This sense of being in relation is fundamental to Callahan Freet’s work. In addition to developing socially engaged projects and collaborating with her family, she challenges herself to have one conversation with another creative every day as part of her studio practice. It helps her get out of her own head, and it also honors the generative energy that comes from exchange. As a mother, Callahan Freet has also drawn inspiration from being in dialogue with other artist-mothers across the state. An established cohort meets regularly on Zoom to discuss their creative practices and support each other through the challenges and vicissitudes of caregiving.
At the end of the day, Callahan Freet says, even though her work comes from an extremely private place in collaboration with those closest to her, “My hope is that mothers will understand. Fathers can see it and understand. Children see it and understand. And you don’t just have to be a mother, father, or child—the work is for everyone. Everyone who cares about somebody.”
The artist, alongside her work Share the Load in MOTHER, 2022.
Follow along with Myesha Callahan Freet’s residency for the months of April and May via the Anchorage Museum’s social media channels and stay tuned for her livestream studio demo at noon on Wednesday, May 24 via Facebook Live.