News | 05-08-2021

Alison Lowry’s Belfast exhibition highlights women’s suffering

An exhibition of sculpture, video and sound has been created in response to the historical suffering of Irish women and children highlighted in a recent report. The display, by Northern Irish glass artist Alison Lowry, is on now at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Showing in the gallery’s Project Space, The Bystander Effect’ is the culmination of two years of research examining the role of society in allowing an ‘architecture of containment’ to develop in Northern Ireland.

The gallery explains that, within the exhibition, the term ‘architecture of containment’ describes the physical infrastructure and systems used to incarcerate women and children in 18th and 19th century Ireland, including Industrial Schools, children’s homes, mother and baby institutions and Magdalene laundries.

Within these religious and state-run institutions, it continues, women and children were hidden in plain sight, ostracised and ‘othered’ by society. The ‘shame’ that the unmarried mother brought to her family (and the complicit) wider community meant that, after delivering her baby in secret, the mother was frequently coerced into signing away her baby, to be adopted or placed into a children’s home.

Alison Lowry presents a sculptural piece of found objects that questions whether survivors of these institutions will get the justice they deserve. In addition, suspended sculptural objects, video and sound explore the ongoing suffering of the birth mothers. These works have been created in response to the report Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland.

The focal point of the exhibition is an interactive installation of glass and ceramic objects and a documented performance. The installation engages with the research of forensic archaeologist Toni Maguire. Toni spent four years investigating the Bog Meadows in Milltown Cemetery in Belfast. She estimates that at least 36,000 babies and children are buried there in unmarked graves. According to church records, the burials took place between the 1930s and 1990s. Interred in the Bog Meadows are stillborn babies, who were considered unsuitable for burial in consecrated ground, and children from various children’s homes in Belfast, at least some of whom would have been transferred from mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland.

In response, Lowry staged a peaceful protest at the gates of Milltown Cemetery, creating the performance They all had names’.

The exhibition is on at the Golden Thread Gallery, 84-94 Great Patrick Street, Belfast BT1 2LU from 5 August – 9 September 2021. Opening times: Tuesday-Friday 11am-5pm; Saturday 11am-4pm. Admission is free.

Alison Lowry is based in Saintfield, Northern Ireland. Her awards include first place in ‘Glass Art’ at the Royal Dublin Show in 2015 and 2009, the Silver medal at the Royal Ulster Arts Club’s Annual Exhibition in 2010, plus the Warm Glass Prize in 2010, 2011 and 2017.

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