Dyana Gravina

The Art of being a mother and an entrepreneur

By Nika Jazaee

Dyana Gravina is a young entrepreneur that left her established career in Italy when she found out that she was pregnant, and moved to London for love. She had a background in events management and had been working in creative arts for a long time. She was full of enthusiasm, moving to the city of possibilities but found herself struggling with language barriers, and being pregnant made everything more difficult. As her belly grew so also did her ambitions and dreams grow bigger. Dyana’s pregnancy led her into starting a whole new project here in London, celebrating mother and pregnant artists. Read her full story here.        

You started to build your career on your own from a very young age, tell us more about this journey.
Picture a quiet, very small town near the seaside in the south of Italy, then imagine a very young girl who cannot be still, whose passions for music and dance made her dreams bigger than the reality surrounding her. Think about a little girl whose parents are very young, there is not much time for reflections and not much space for caring and supporting the vision of a little creature. But there is love. I felt the need of being financially independent from a very young age, confident that one day I would leave that town. I have done everything within my capabilities to make that happen, occupying my days between school, dance classes, and working seasonally from the age of fourteen. Eventually the time arrived, as I left for university and paid for my studies by doing the most various of jobs. I didn’t have the courage to pursue a career as a dancer, the little girl inside me was not confident enough and health issues didn’t help with that either. Post-graduation I started working in the field of events production for different agencies; by this time dance and music were “hobbies”, but always present in my life. My parents were always there to give me comfort when I needed, but they were certainly not paying the bills. I decided to have them around, working from the backstage while someone else was on stage, and I was directing and organising, making the show possible. I have built a career in events and in the arts this way, with over ten years experience now. I have reinvented myself many times, changed cities, countries, seen the world and became a global woman.

What made you leave your established life in Italy and move to London?

Love. I have always been extremely passionate about human relationships and the importance of love as a driving force within my life and the lives of others. It has been a constant research I guess, that came to an end when I gave birth to my son. His father was living in London, and for me, surprisingly pregnant, London seemed to be a better place in where to start a new life. My life was going to change drastically anyway, so I thought, why not make it more dramatic!

What was the biggest challenge you had to face when coming to London as young woman?
At first I was sure my background, languages and outgoing personality would make it quite easy to find a job here… but it was much harder than expected. I was a young woman, scared yet full of expectations for the future, in the city of the opportunities, but none arrived. If I was lucky enough to get an interview, it would still end up negatively as soon as I was telling them that I was pregnant. London is a city that can, just like pregnancy, be a lonely place, combined with the relationship I had that still needed to find balance. Everything was new, the future was unknown, my financial independency was gone. But with the fear and the frustration of not finding a job, I have come to believe that everything happened for a reason. By this time I was five months pregnant and I started to feel an incredible force from within, as he was growing inside of me.

Tell us more about the ProCreate Project and how you started?

After the fifth month of pregnancy, my body underwent enormous changes: my belly grew bigger and as my physical transformation became more apparent, that force became stronger and more physical. I was in full creation. I wanted to drown myself in the ocean of creative ideas crossing my mind; So one night, before falling asleep, I suddenly pictured the logo in my mind’s eye: a light bulb and a foetus…and I would call it ProCreate. Just like that it came to me. At first I thought it was the beginning of an event; I was not sure what I was creating it for, and I was alone when I started this journey. I struggled to find a community where other female artists could express this creative feeling or, indeed, any medium that talked about the connection between creativity and pregnancy. I wondered whether I might be going crazy; was I really the only woman on earth to be feeling this way? It surprised me that the information readily available on the internet regarding pregnancy mostly deals with all the problems you are likely to face. It is such a negative approach – there is very little that talks of, or celebrates this phenomenon artistically.
So I started advertising online for other female artists who may relate to me and my new found passion, and it was not long before responses started to pour in. By sharing my story with other artists I finally realised that what I felt was real. After a long period of solitude, I felt I had found something beyond my initial expectations.The ProCreate Project is today a social enterprise, encouraging and promoting the works of female artists who are mothers. The organisation is providing practical support for artists, enabling them to continue producing work during pregnancy and motherhood through a range of initiatives and artistic productions.

The main focus of the project is to empower women from around the world during the life transforming experience, making the art of motherhood manifest and to create more spaces for women in the contemporary art world.

Hundreds of artists have approached me during the past three years and who have started collaborating with the organisation. Today there are five ongoing productions and established collaborations with organisations and universities. Through collaborating with other mothers at different stages of their process we confirmed a shared experience of the link between motherhood and the creative urges at many different stages of motherhood, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and beyond. The main focus of the project is to empower women from around the world during the life transforming experience, making the art of motherhood manifest and to create more spaces for women in the contemporary art world. The main challenge has been being heard. At first only a few people in business believed in my idea. Many institutions thought this was too big a vision for a single person that has just arrived in the country and with no connections.

How can we overcome the perception that it is difficult to be a mother and have a career at the same time?

There are many discourses regarding the subject and many projects which are navigating against these perceptions. However these conversations should be heard, not read from mother-artists or women only. Mothers should be supported and there is a profound need in society of understanding what motherhood means. The invisible unpaid labour of caring for a child and raising him or her into an adult in this society should be evaluated and recognised, and not ignored. Furthermore women should be able to talk loudly about each aspect of their life as mothers. They should not feel inhibited during sex, pregnancy, while giving birth, and not after. You cannot be inhibited when creating art as you cannot feel inhibited when creating life. The art of motherhood should be normalised, felt, extemporaneous, and not judged as boring, or not “sexy” enough to reach the big audience. To me, art is about expression, intense feelings, experiences, chaos, madness, profundity, richness, blood, or love. I would use the same words to describe motherhood. If not oppressed by patriarchal schemes radicated in people’s brains, a woman should be able to find full empowerment during this time as a human and as an artist. Starting from this awareness we can then try to create more infrastructures that facilitate a woman in perusing her career while nurturing her practice as a mother.

Part of the Procreate Project to reach this goal is to:

– Build a platform that can provide practical help and financial support for
artists and help artists build and combine their existence as mothers with their practice.
– Connect artists with the forefront of creative business, creating networks and links with relevant movements, scenes and diverse niche groups.
– Support, showcase and promote artist’s projects through on and off line events, activities and campaigns.
– Develop communities that encourage open discussions between mothers and audience.
– Provide space, with flexible childcare to enable creative development.

On this direction I would like to highlight our most recent initiative called the Mother House, the very first model of art studio with co-produced and flexible childcare piloted last September. Over 30 London based artists and their children came for an exploratory month into the intersection between the roles of mother and artist, observing the importance of their impact on private lives and within society. The model provided the freedom to work independently or alongside your children and it encouraged opportunities to work in collaboration with other artists creating a supportive and inspiring network. The Mother House idea is born in response to the urge of “making” within the life-changing experience of motherhood, offering a collaborative yet intimate space to curate your practice whilst ensuring your journey into motherhood is fed in a creative and inclusive way. The children felt included and the artists evaluated. We are today looking for our new house and working to establish this model nationally in support of an increasing demand and to contrast the absurdity of a society structure where children have not the rights to be in public spaces, forcing a mother to prioritise something that cannot instead be separated.

You have connected motherhood with your work; did this make it easier for you to balance your life as a mother with pursuing your career?

As it should be clear by now, nothing was part of a plan, everything happened organically. Becoming a mother was the driving force that allowed me to gain what I have achieved today, not the other way around. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t receive super powers while conceiving, all the work is done during nap times, or at night time after putting him to bed, recently If I am lucky enough not to fall asleep before him. I have been told that what I am doing and creating is revolutionary, almost anarchic, and it feels good when I hear that, however to me it sounds so logical. I am not sure that I have found the balance, or if there is a balance. I see it more as an amalgamation of hundreds of little pieces of a complex puzzle. I am a single mother trying my best to raise my child in the healthiest way possible. Part of this is being authentic with him, to recognise and share my needs with him, including the urge of making something important, and have him fully part of it, respecting his needs and working on creating a safe space for both.

Why is Art an important part of our society and how does it influence us?

Art is a healer, a medium of expression, the channel of many emotions. The peace is the way to navigate in our lives and the one of others. Through art and creativity we find awareness, peace, and satisfaction, whether you are making it or watching it. I would like to use phrases of artists I collaborate with; “Writing, it’s been a way for me to try to make sense of the changes brought about by pregnancy, birth and motherhood, including a struggle with anxiety and postnatal depression.” “It took me a while to adjust to life with baby and recovering from my C section. Keeping up my practice and getting on with my degree, having the possibility to creatively working through emotions, anxieties and the strange bodily feeling after a birth really helped me to stay, maybe not sane but stable enough to conquer this new so very different life”. “These works helped to articulate my emotions. The realisation that the journey of birth is still so precarious – not quite life and still today, potentially quite close to death.”

Art is a healer, a medium of expression, the channel of many emotions. The peace is the way to navigate in our lives and the one of others.

What keeps you going every day, to achieve your dreams and aspirations?

As with any other entrepreneur there are days where you just want to give up, when it is too hard and rejections come one after another. Then you receive an email from a woman from the other side of the world sharing the deepest feeling with you, like if you knew each other for a lifetime, and she is thanking you. It becomes a feeling of being connected with other women, less lonely, part of a movement, and a reason to keep ‘making’. Crucial to the success of the Procreate Project is the power I have found in all the connections and the sisterhood built with many brave women, who have encouraged me to pursue this dream. And of course, the love. Such an intense love I have never experienced before having my son, the one who drove me here and still guides me all the way.