For the founder of LA’s MAMA Gallery, motherhood and creative identity is a careful balance
Moms of LA is our interview series about motherhood in Los Angeles, a city filled with badass moms of all walks of life. A powerhouse in the international arts scene, Adarsha Benjamin founded MAMA Gallery in 2014 — baby in belly, no less. We take an intimate look at her life with daughter Juniper, talking community support, entrepreneurship and whether mothers can 'do it all.' Interview and photographs by Rebecca Frances Burns.
You were six months pregnant with Juniper (pictured) when you launched Mama Gallery. How did it feel to be starting a family in the midst of everything else you were doing?
It was a really wild time. Me and her [Juniper’s] dad made her the night we met. I could make movies and write novels about how life changing it was to have a baby with a complete stranger. We went through everything that you could go through in a month: lust, passion, falling in love, and “Oh, we’re pregnant!” and “we should get married” and “no, we should just be friends” and then “oh wait, no, we should have nothing to do with each other.”
I had Juniper on my own, in the end. It was very turbulent and beautiful – I had to learn how to be stronger than I ever thought possible. Being pregnant is already such an incredibly intense experience, but to do it by yourself? You make a baby with someone for a reason. Partnership really comes into play.
Where did you find support?
This girl right here [Juniper] is the village child. She was born at the home of two of my best friends. One of my best friends was like my birth partner. I think I had 14 friends walk in the room after she was born. This pregnancy [At the time of the interview, Adarsha was four months pregnant. She recently gave birth to a daughter, Georgia!] I feel much more isolated in a way — a lot more solo. But with her, I needed my friends.
Has your career changed after having a baby?
I’ve never been busier! I think that’s because having a child made me want to create something bigger than myself. It made me more ambitious financially but also it also made me want to create something I felt proud of — to keep a part of my identity outside of being a mother. Being an artist is something you do every day in some capacity. You have moments where it’s big, or it seems really important, and people care. You make money or you don’t make money. The point of it is to do it consistently.
What’s it like, defining your approach to motherhood in a city like LA?
Living in LA is amazing, but it’s difficult. I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve watched so much of my community become rich, famous or powerful. The thing in LA is to be busy. Everyone’s always doing something. It’s beautiful because everyone is creating – trying to create, talking about creating, planning to create. Sometimes I’m so inspired by how everyone I know is living a life that so many people dream about. But there’s a lot of self-comparison. If you’re going through something — going through a transition — LA can eat you alive a little bit.
Do you want to raise your family in the city?
I love LA — we have such an intense relationship. We’ve gone through so much together. But ideally, no, I don’t really want to live in a city anymore. I want to live where it’s green and where it rains once in a while. I’m burnt out on Los Angeles. Junie is so over being in a car she told me, “I just want to travel around on a horse.” The secret in LA: Get a view of some trees or the mountains. A little perspective helps.
How is this pregnancy compared to your first?
My placenta is low-lying currently and will likely move. In the meantime, no aerobics, no exercise, no heavy lifting. It’s interesting, I was so headstrong with my first pregnancy: Home birth, do my yoga until the day before she’s born and walk three miles. I’m not as much that way this time.
Do you think you can do it all?
Yes and no. At one point, I would have said yes. I often feel like to be a mother is so all-encompassing that it could be a full-time job. To be in love is such a full-time job. I fell in love this year. And then to have a career. To take care of your body. Holy moly! Something is going to fall off at some point and you just have to choose what’s most important at that moment.
That said, I think it’s a big misconception that your life ends after becoming a mother. That you’re going to stop having sex and your life is over. I don’t feel like people around me are going through that. I’m around all these amazing women who work and create and you know, life goes on.
Read next: Moms of LA: Kiana Reeves — A mom at 25, Kiana went on food stamps to be with her son every day. In 2017, she founded her own company, The Tulip