The following feature appears in the September 2016 issue of NYLON.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles started out as an artist in search of freedom, but after the birth of her daughter in 1968, she felt an unavoidable shift in her life. “Being a mother entails an enormous amount of repetitive tasks. I became a maintenance worker. I felt completely abandoned by my culture because it didn’t have a way to incorporate sustaining work. I had no words, no language to deal with it,” she says.
This realization lead Ukeles to write Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!, a statement intended to unite her work as a mother and her work as an artist. “I felt like two separate people,” Ukeles says, “and I wanted to be both.” Now, nearly 50 years later, a survey of her work will be shown at the Queens Museum in New York starting September 18.
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Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980. Citywide performance with 8,500 Sanitation workers across all fifty-nine New York City Sanitation districts. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, photo: Robin Holland.