An Eye for an Eye: Representations of Conflict in 20th Century Ireland
Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork

Curated by Professor Dermot Keogh and Ruth Osborne
14 November 2008 – 1 March 2009

Observation Point, Derry, silver gelatin print, toners, gouache, 124cms x 188cms, 1989 © Victor Sloan

Victor Sloan's work installed at the Glucksman Gallery, Cork

Artists: Robert Ballagh, Rita Duffy, T.P. Flanagan, Paul Graham, Paul Henry, Seán Keating, Sir John Lavery, F.E. McWilliam, Sir William Orpen, Michael Power-O’Malley, Dermot Seymour,Victor Sloan, and Jack B.Yeats, alongside archive materials from Gael Linn, the Imperial War Museum, the Linen Hall Library, the National Library of Ireland and UTV.

Curated by Professor Dermot Keogh and Ruth Osborne, An Eye for an Eye: Representations of Conflict in 20th Century Ireland employs art as an historical source to explore and reflect upon moments of conflict from throughout the twentieth century in Ireland. The title is evocative of how conflict has continually been played out in Irish history and the exhibition seeks to challenge the viewer by inviting them to reconsider moments of conflict beyond the binary of right verses wrong.

An Eye for an Eye chronologically traces developments in Irish history by including artists who have visually represented events such as the rise of revolutionary and constitutional nationalism, partition and state building, to the years of violent conflict beginning in the late 1960s and known as the ‘Troubles’. Irish artists have left strong images in response to these events. Yet none of the artists in the exhibition gratuitously extol violence. Nor are any of the artworks propagandist in nature. Rather the artworks suggest alternative responses and relationships to conflict in Ireland; from Jack Yeats’ personal and introspective Going to Wolfe Tone's Grave and Sir John Lavery’s grand Pro-Cathedral Dublin (Michael Collins), which addresses the aftermath of conflict on the scale of national mourning, to TP Flanagan’s poignant The Victim a highly personal work, universal and local in its significance, which tells the story of innocent, civilian death as a result of conflict.

The exhibition seeks to offer moments of twentieth century Irish history to the viewer for examination, contemplation and even revision. The artworks have been chosen to encourage reflection on a complex period of history. By presenting images of quality and importance, which provoke a questioning of presuppositions or received views the exhibition is an invitation to reflect on the complexities of the past rather than a formula which seeks or offers answers.

Professor Dermot Keogh is the Head of the History Department at University College Cork and has published widely on Irish social, cultural and political history and has conducted extensive research on the former Taoiseach Jack Lynch.

Lewis Glucksman Gallery
University College Cork

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Attacking the subject of 20th century conflict
by Aidan Dunne

THE Glucksman Gallery at UCC has maintained a strategy of running two divergent but related exhibitions in tandem, and such is the case with their current pairing of 'Getting Even' and 'An Eye for an Eye'. The latter, long anticipated, bears the helpfully explanatory subtitle 'Representations of Conflict in 20th Century Ireland', and is a hybrid combining fine art with apposite historical documentation.

It is also, given this huge agenda, quite a sparse show, compact and visitor-friendly, though a little advance planning might be in order if you intend to stay for the entire length of George Morrison’s archival treasure trove of a documentary, 'Mise Éire', which is running continuously.

In Ireland, as elsewhere, there was no shortage of conflicts begging for representation in the 20th century. Interestingly, though, the first piece we encounter is a drawing made by Sir William Orpen while working as an official war artist during the first World War.

It’s a matter-of-fact study of a tired Royal Irish Fusilier, dated May 21st, 1917, and it’s here as a pointed reminder of the substantial and costly involvement of Irishmen in the conflict, an involvement that was, until quite recently, rarely or grudgingly acknowledged.

While Irishmen were fighting and dying on the Western Front, quite another west is evoked in Seán Keating’s Men of the West, painted in 1915. In fact, this symbolic account of hardy West of Ireland men, armed and ready to join battle in the nationalist cause, also recalls the American Wild West with its stylised theatricality.

Thereafter we see Sir John Lavery’s formal painting of the funeral of Michael Collins, Jack B Yeats on the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration and emblematic images of the West of Ireland, before moving on to more recent strife in Northern Ireland.

The Troubles are reflected through Robert Ballagh’s response to the murder of members of the Miami Showband in 1975, one of FE McWilliam’s Women of Belfast bronzes, of individuals caught up in bomb blasts, and TP Flanagan’s dignified memorial to a slain friend. Paul Graham’s photographs subtly illustrate the way divisions and allegiances are inscribed on the landscape.

The outstanding work, though, is Victor Sloan’s tremendous quartet of images of Orange Order July 12th parades. They could almost be celebratory, but the surfaces are scarred and torn, indicative of a corrosive historical legacy.

Review extract from the Irish Times, Dublin, Wednesday, February 11, 2009