Column | Family Lines

Alice Rekab reflects on an ongoing project which explores black and mixed-race identities in Ireland.

Alice Rekab, Samir’s Prism, 2021, Digital Drawing Collage; image © and courtesy the artist. Alice Rekab, Samir’s Prism, 2021, Digital Drawing Collage; image © and courtesy the artist.

‘FAMILY LINES’ is a multi-platform project I have developed with the support of the Douglas Hyde Gallery and the Arts Council of Ireland. It takes the form of a solo exhibition of newly commissioned work; a public programme of workshops, developed in collaboration with Éireann and I (a community archive for Black migrants in Ireland); public screenings, featuring works by Martina Attille, Black Audio Film Collective, Larry Achiampong, Jennifer Martin, Holly Graham, Zinzi Minott, and Salma Ahmad Caller; and public billboards by Henrique Paris in collaboration with Cypher Billboard, London. ‘FAMILY LINES’ explores experiences of migration and survival within the family unit and focuses on Black and Mixed-Race life in Ireland across generations. 

I am the white passing child of a mixed marriage born into a very white space. Dublin in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a monoculture and I was the only one I knew with a Black dad and grandmother. I learned our story by heart – who we were and where we came from. I carried a photo. I taught people how to say our surname, Rekab. A section cut from a larger piece, a core sample, a brief inventory: Temne1, Sierra Leone, Magburka2, Syria, labneh3, granat stew4, trading cloth, Dublin, boarding school, elocution lessons, nuns, my dad playing guitar, my mum an artist. These were fragments of lives remembered and retold, woven together into a cohesive story in response to that interrogating inquiry:  “Where are you really from?”

Because of my light skin tone, people questioned if I was my father’s child. I told different parts of my family story to different people. This auto-redaction was an editorial-process-as-defence-mechanism; it made me up as a new person every time. It was a method of storytelling that came from knowing that not all of me was welcome in one space. 

The work I have made for ‘FAMILY LINES’ is part of a process of reclaiming this auto-redaction and auto-becoming as an experimental method of making art. Through this exhibition I want to transform the negation of having to re-tell who I am differently each time, within the dynamism and fluidity that come with being Mixed-Race and Irish. The films, sculptures and prints in the exhibition reference objects excavated from my personal past as well as shared cultural histories. They connect with this idea of making something new and coherent out of fragmented images from different points in time. Figures and objects phase in and out of visibility, are layered and brought together in ways that would not be possible outside the image. 

‘FAMILY LINES’ is about struggling to piece together who you are in the culture you grew up in. It is also about finding yourself through your family’s journey and trying to make a space for yourself in proximity to your ancestors. Each element of the program connects with and elaborates on these ideas in their own distinct and nuanced ways, weaving them together with personal and political concerns and presenting works that interrogate, nurture, love and remember who we are and where we come from.

Alice Rekab is an artist based in 



1 My grandmother is Temne – an indigenous Sierra Leonean People.

2 Magburka is a small town in rural Sierra Leone, where my grandmother was born.

3 A traditional Levantine dish of fermented milk curds served with garlic and olive oil.

4 A traditional Sierra Leonean stew made with peanuts.