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Baggage - NI Mental Health Arts Festival

Back at the start of February this year I was contacted by Dawn Richardson, owner of Framewerk Gallery, community activist, artist, and all round good egg. One of her many roles is the current artistic director of the Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival and in this capacity she wondered if I would be up for doing a solo exhibition for this year’s event. Dates worked out and I thought why not.

The theme this year is ‘Gather’ and I set about thinking what to do. At first I was looking at groups, congregations, people supporting each other. This got me thinking about family and how generally if we are lucky that is our first experience of being in a supportive group.

However, through various conversations with other artists at the mill where I have my studio, the phrase ‘transgenerational trauma’ came up and my train of thought shifted.

This is a very intriguing theory along the lines of not only are we influenced directly by family, parents etc. but we are also affected by the deeply felt experiences of grandparents and previous generations. It also recognises the collective experience of a community as a factor that can be passed down through generations

It is believed that transgenerational or intergenerational trauma can affect us biologically, socially, mentally, or emotionally.

I started thinking about phrases like ‘runs in the family’ and ‘it’s in their blood’, about DNA sequences, how some of the baggage we carry is passed on to us, and how we can judge ourselves so harshly for things we may have no control over or even any real knowledge of.

So how to interpret these elements, well I thought as a starting point I’d use what I have been drawn to using for most of my ceramics practice and something that can represent the initial innocence of all human existence, the baby doll face. Throw in a plaster mould of my own face and things began to take shape.

I haven’t stuck with clay for this exhibition, I’ve used drawing and linen tablecloths (well the exhibition is in an old linen mill) and metal (mostly rusty nails).

It’s been a very insightful experience and a subject I feel I will return to in the future.

Baggage is on during the NI Mental Health Arts Festival 2022 finishing 15th May in the Drying Room Gallery, Conway Mill, Belfast.

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