Solemn and Bedazzling

LISA GODSON EXAMINES ARTISTS’ BANNERS THROUGH A MATERIAL CULTURE LENS, SITUATING THEM WITHIN THE BROADER HISTORY OF SOCIAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS.

Among the placards, signs and posters held aloft at the sixth annual March for Choice in Dublin on September 30 were a set of remarkable banners created by artists Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon and Breda Mayock. As Fallon explains: “We had a meeting at the beginning of the year about what way the artists’ campaign could go, in terms of repealing the Eighth Amendment. It was important to do something that was ‘us’ and that spoke of our expertise in making things”.

Until the early twentieth century, processions with spectacular banners were a widespread feature of civic life. Their vibrant colours and narrative content provided visual excitement as well as exhortation, amidst all manner of social gatherings and events, whether convening for religious devotion, political rallying or as part of the annual cycle of commemorative occasions. The practice of formal banner display on the island of Ireland now tends to be the preserve of conservative, even reactionary organisations, such as the Orange Order, the Irish National Foresters, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and so on. In keeping with their archaism, these organisations each flaunt their own particular claim on the past. Their banners bear iconography that invokes tradition and asserts continuation. This is aimed at servicing a teleology, where some foundation myth continues to uphold and reinforce present-day political claims.

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Landscape and the Built Environment

RAMON KASSAM PRESENTS A SURVEY OF CONTEMPORARY LANDSCAPE PAINTING IN IRELAND.

The 1920s and 30s saw an extraordinary increase in the popularity and production of landscape paintings in Ireland. Paul Henry and Jack B. Yeats, who are currently being exhibited side by side in Limerick’s Hunt Museum, were two of the major protagonists of that era. In contrast, European painting at that time was in the throes of Modernism, producing aesthetic innovation after innovation, which was largely self-analytical and retreating into its own flatness. Such concerns seemed secondary for many Irish artists, which would suggest that motivations were being shaped by different factors. These artists did engage in self-reflexive processes, but did so with the aim of exploring identity politics, with landscape painting becoming an important vehicle. The case is usually made that the prevailing subjects and sensibilities in Irish painting emerged as a result of post-independence Ireland’s distrust of Modernism, as well as the conservative social values asserted by the church and state. However, the precedence placed on landscape as a subject can also be perceived as the result of the newly-formed, post-colonial position of Irish artists. In this way, painting the landscape can be understood as an act of repossession, a reclaiming of territory and culture.

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