Press release

Balancing art and motherhood a labour of love for Iliana

Published on 9 May 2019

All art students face several arduous years dedicated to their creative labours but for Iliana Francia-Elliott, who found out she was pregnant with her second child partway through her studies, the journey was particularly tough

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Iliana is one of around 300 graduating student exhibiting at this year’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and Architecture Degree Show, which opens next weekend. The exhibition comes just over two years since Iliana gave birth to her son Danny, little brother to Kayleigh (8).

Though delighted by the news, Iliana’s joy was tempered slightly by the realisation that it might spell the end of her lifelong dream of studying art. After discussions with partner Jim about what it would mean for their family, Iliana decided to continue her studies.

Danny was born in March 2017 following a difficult pregnancy that led to Iliana being hospitalised due to hyperemesis gravidarum, an extreme form of morning sickness that saw her hooked up to an IV drip while her classmates attended lectures and developed their practice.

Iliana was allowed to work from home for the last couple of months of her second year at Duncan of Jordanstone and was handing in coursework right up to Danny’s birth and beyond. The essay which accounted for a major part of her grade for the year was typed one-handed as her newborn tended to cry whenever Iliana to tried put him down. She resumed full studio practice at the start of third year in September 2017.

Thanks to the domestic support offered by Jim and the practical assistance provided by her tutors, she was able to complete her Art & Philosophy degree. Her Degree Show exhibit deals with the inevitable challenges and compromises arising from being both a mother and artist.

“Part of my work is a series of photographs that deal with the internal frustrations that all parents feel,” she said. “I think it’s important to give voice to these frustrations and acknowledge them as being completely normal.

“It has been great for me to come here and express myself away from my children but it definitely comes with guilt because you wonder if you are giving them everything they need. I didn’t have a break before coming back to university so it was very difficult to deal with the demands of the course on top of having a newborn baby and my daughter, who had just started school.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support networks I have at university and at home. Jim has been great and my tutors and colleagues have been amazing with the amount of support they have given me as well.”

Iliana (33) was born in Athens and raised in Chesterfield before moving to Scotland with Jim 14 years ago. She worked as an Employment Training Assistant but her dream was always to study art and she applied four times to do so before she was accepted to Duncan of Jordanstone.

Iliana’s exhibit, ‘Just trying to get through the week’ takes its name from something she said to her daughter when fielding the barrage of questions all too familiar to parents of young children.

She continued, “When I found out I was pregnant and having been through it before I didn’t think I could do both but I was determined not to let my chance at art college pass me by. It often felt impossible but I’ve managed to get through somehow.

“There was one day when I was exhausted and Kayleigh kept asking me why I was doing this and why I did that a certain way and I looked at her and said ‘because I’m just trying to get through the week’. I think that sums up a lot of what parents feel even though they sometimes won’t admit it.

“The other part of my exhibit is a series of five videos which will play continuously throughout the Degree Show. I strapped a GoPro camera to my chest and recorded my life from 6.30am, when I got up with the kids, until 7.30pm, when they were back in bed, from Monday to Friday one week.

“It shows the domestic and creative parts of my life – getting them ready in the morning, breakfast time and dropping them off at school and nursery then working in the studio – and captures the frustrations and funny little incidents that are part and parcel of being a parent. Because it’s captured in a first-person style I think it brings people right in my world.”

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and Architecture Degree Show is always a highlight of the city’s cultural calendar but with this year’s exhibition being the first to take place since the opening of V&A Dundee, 18-26 May represents Dundee’s biggest week of art and design to date.

Last year’s exhibition attracted a record attendance of 16,000, generating in excess of £1.5 million for the local economy. Around 300 students will once again be showcasing visually stunning art and design that seeks to solve some of society’s biggest problems.

With Dundee enjoying a tourism boom on the back of the opening of V&A Dundee and other venues hosting exhibitions and events, the city is set for a major celebration of culture that week.

Degree Show opens a month after the launch of Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, V&A Dundee’s second touring exhibition. Dundee Design Festival is hosting a programme of design-focused events and workshops inside the Keiller Shopping Centre while other exhibitions taking place include those at Dundee Contemporary Arts and The McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum.


Press Office, University of Dundee