Who Does She Think She Is?

In her provocatively titled Who Does She Think She Is?, filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll follows five women as they struggle to balance the demands of artistic invention and motherhood. The five artists featured in the film, released in 2008, each offer insight into the complex intersections of motherhood and creativity, partnering and independence, economics and art. For example, Mayumi Oda, who recently abandoned a decades-long career in the art world and moved to a farm in Hawaii with her family, denies a distinction between the lives we lead and the art we create. Instead, life is art, and, for Oda, painting is a by-product of living. Angela Williams, another artist featured in the film, instead describes art as a rending force. While raising two children, she explains, “I did feel selfish, at first. And I did hear people telling me I ought to feel selfish.” But the pursuit of her art helped her recognize the importance of living with purpose and of setting an example for her children. Sculptor and single mother Maye Torres sums up the artistic desire: “It is an unstoppable force of the universe.”

Recent statistics show that more than 40 percent of women who have children below the age of three remain outside the labor force—this despite the more than 80 percent of mothers who say they would prefer either part- or full-time work. The film introduces a number of surprising figures concerning the art world specifically, including that 98 percent of the art showcased at the National Gallery of Art is by men. Other museums fare no better. Who Does She Think She Is? shines light on deeply rooted issues of gender inequality and familial expectation. Though focused on artistic expression, Boll explains that the film is fundamentally “about questioning whether we really value mothering in our culture.”