The Hold: Mary Sullivan and Bere Island Women Create
Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme, managed by Create
The Hold (2020 – 2022) is a project that forefronts the act of community, creativity, and collaboration in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, where an unravelling of social and communal cohesion is prevalent in a global context. The Hold illustrates a symbolic coming together of twenty-four full-time female residents of Bere Island through quilting, sound recording, and diary writing.
Consisting of twenty-four patches created by each member of the group, the quilt created by Bere Island Women Create, represents the personal perspective of each woman in relation to her lived experience of island life. The type of fabric, the story it tells, and its connectivity to other patches all combine to create a visual storyboard of unique experiences. These individual experiences intertwine in the finished quilt to reimagine a renewed sense of community, strengthened by a shared journey.
Sound diaries and written words highlight the often undocumented mundanities of daily life and sounds that usually fade into the background. The Hold brings together an array of words, sounds, voices, music and silence, forming a new pattern or roadmap for the current climate, as well as a holistic view of island life.
The Hold stitches together the lives of women at a time when the threads of community life are frayed and island women look for opportunities to remain connected with one another.
The project was a collaboration between artist Mary Sullivan and twenty-four female members of the small community of Bere Island. Composers Liz Clark, Christine Deady, Paula K O’ Brien and Deirdre Archbold – known collectively as The Starlings – were also involved in the creation of the final artwork.
The project The Hold is concerned with island living, and ‘the hold’ that island life has over the women residing on Bere Island. Participants have significant experience with island life, with some living on Bere Island for the entirety of their lives while others have over a year’s experience with island living. The title The Hold is appropriate on many levels, not least because the women felt ‘held’ together during the Covid-19 pandemic by the enthusiasm, creativity, friendship, and trust fostered by all involved. The project prompted them to think about what being an island woman means to them: independence, freedom, safety (particularly during the pandemic), and opportunity.
The collaboration was initiated by lead artist Mary Sullivan as part of her ongoing research into women, domestic life, and island identity. The work lead to the creation of Bere Island’s first ever women’s group dedicated solely to the arts.
The Hold set out to foster an interest in the arts within the community of Bere Island, bringing together a group of women to create a unique, collaborative artwork during a time of disconnection and social isolation. This multi-faceted visual journey maps some of the lived experiences of these women in the context of a global pandemic and culminates in this exhibition led by visual artist Mary Sullivan.
This project saw each of the contributors become ‘journeywomen’ on a communal artistic endeavour, affording the opportunity for each to tell their own story from their own perspective. Individual voices intertwine in the finished quilt to reimagine a renewed sense of community strengthened by a shared journey. The Hold stiches together the lives of women and creates an opportunity to remain connected.
Central to this project is the notion that place identity forms a large part of the identities of those who reside on Bere Island full-time. The connection of this art with the community in which it was created stands as a testament to the vitality of Bere Island as a ‘site of possibilities’.
Due to strict Covid-19 restrictions, the means by which the group would meet and collaborate had to be carefully considered. A WhatsApp group connected each of the participants and fostered a collaborative environment at a time when many lived in isolation, some even alone. Individually, each participant worked to create their own art, in the form of a patch that would be used to create the final quilt, audio recordings and written diaries – each a unique documentation of island life.
- Artistic group, Bere Island Women Create
- A Patchwork Quilt
- Digital documentation in Video & photography
- New sound composition by The Starlings, ‘Song to the Sea’
- Sound diaries
- Written Diaries
The formation of the artistic community group Bere Island Women Create is a testament to the power of this project to bring the community together in a new way, and the power of art to help individuals find new ways to connect even at the most challenging of times. The success of the group is mirrored by its success in achieving funding for the realisation of the project. Lead artist, Mary Sullivan, will preserve the work for generations to come in a book, which will launch at the exhibition of the project on the 17th June 2022.
The Hold culminated in a week long exhibition to be held on Bere Island, Co Cork from 17th-26th June 2022, with the work of each participant and their stories immortalised in a book.
Documentation & Dissemination
The Hold can be viewed on Mary Sullivan’s website.
Copies of the book are available from Mary Sullivan directly.