Picturing Motherhood Now Inspires Creative Expressions

Behind the Scenes of Powerful Spoken Word Videos

Cleveland Museum of Art
CMA Thinker


With Shuree Rivera, Singleton & Partners Creative Director

Picturing Motherhood Now is an exhibition layered with current representations of motherhood, a diverse array of artists, and the inclusion of the CMA’s first-ever Community Voice labels, which highlight personal anecdotes by Clevelanders. Contemporary artists like Wendy Red Star, Rose B. Simpson, Titus Kaphar, and many others share their interpretations of motherhood in a powerful, relatable, and enlightening way.

Over the past few months, the CMA produced two spoken word videos with Singleton & Partners and featured poets Siaara Freeman and Alexander James, whose work was inspired by the exhibition. We asked creative director Shuree Rivera a few questions about how the videos came together.

What does it mean to you to work on this project? What did you hope to convey?

As Siarra Freeman says, “The energy it takes for Black and brown mothers to try and lift this society off their children’s backs. To dismantle systems and reconstruct cultures on little sleep . . . is exhausting.”

Shooting the outdoor scenes

As a Black multicultural woman, I hear Siarra’s words with deep resonance. Tears flow as I hear her soul express this poetic truth. I think of my Black godmother who helped raise me. She is strong and resilient. Once a cotton picker, a corporate executive, and now a full-time care caregiver to her disabled grandchildren. I think about how she closes her eyes while talking about the past. I sense she is seeing things I will never know. Things she carries alone and keeps from us, to protect our peace.

Being able to creatively direct two poetic commercial films for the CMA was a tremendous honor. As a creative director, I live for moments where we make space for marginalized voices, provide full agency to artists, and promote diversity through beautiful art.

We commissioned two written works based on the poets’ lived experiences and the visceral responses they had walking through the exhibition Picturing Motherhood Now. After reading their poems, and studying the art myself, I hoped to convey three things in the films I directed: Black Lives Matter; motherhood is not confined to a gender; and that motherhood is one of the most sacred and beautiful art forms known to humankind.

How did you go about the process of selecting the poets?

Keeping the three objectives in mind, we cast a male and female poet.

Alexander James was chosen not only because of his world-class wordplay, but also because I have watched him mother his sons. The nurturing, the tenderness, the protection, the way his Black body is connected to his Black sons, is incredible. We wanted to capture that on film.

“I have discovered to be mother is to unravel your life force
Into a twine, so you can knit identity into your children
Sew into their souls
If you look for it you will find a thread tied to your belly
We are connected.” — Alexander James, Poet.

I have also seen Alexander honor his beautiful Black wife, Victoria featured in his spoken word video, in a way that leaves you breathless. She shines because he understands — and it shows in his line, “Breaking glass ceilings is hard work, you deserve your rest.” He is not afraid to step in and mother so she can rise and rest.

Alexander James with his son on set

The other poet, Siarra helped crystallize the message that motherhood is one of the most sacred and beautiful art forms known to humankind. As a Cleveland native and teacher, she helps us to see that motherhood is not confined to a house and that a classroom can also be a place for a teacher and a mother to reside.

How did you develop the creative visions for the videos?

The vision for the videos was driven by the desire to show Black excellence and to speak directly to the Black and brown community. We know the voices of BIPOC people have been left out of the conversation for decades. We wanted to change that by centering and amplifying them through these videos.

Filming on-set

The sets were designed to show the incredible beauty tied between mother nature and mothers. The flowers, trees, wood, and sun all were intentional. Mother nature was also a gender-neutral inspiration to pull from.

The artworks in Picturing Motherhood Now were central to inspiring the videos, as the exhibition artworks share the many layers of a mother’s magic. This is why we included the poets responding to the artworks in the exhibition. It’s all connected. The exhibition catalogue was also included as a connecting line between the museum’s exhibition space to the poets’ living rooms.

Siarra Freeman during the filming process

What inspires and excites you most about the exhibition and the spoken word videos?

What inspires me most is that the Cleveland Museum of Art is taking its commitment to diversity and inclusion seriously. The artists had room for free expression, the Black and brown community was centered, and the partners bringing this to life were many people of color. Equity is always the bottom line for me, and the Cleveland Museum of Art nailed it.

Watch these powerful spoken word videos and dive into Picturing Motherhood Now on view through March 13. Reserve tickets or become a member to see it for FREE. #MotherhoodNow

Shuree Rivera is the creative director at Singleton & Partners, a performing vocal artist, and an urban activist. She is best known for her 10+ years of work as an influencer and social change agent in urban communities. Shuree has led grassroots, inner-city community action initiatives in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. As a creative director, her passion is to highlight the experiences and creativity in communities of color. Her goal in every project is to create lasting impact while inspiring others to be the best version of themselves.

Shuree is professionally trained and experienced in music and video production, creative design, songwriting, content development, music publishing, theater, dance, and public speaking. She graduated from Nyack College, New York, with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree in music business.