Ceara Conway and Able Women
Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme
Making Visible is a series of public performances that highlighted five women’s experiences living within the Direct Provision System. The work was devised by Ceara Conway in collaboration with the group Able Women.
The vision for the project was to raise the public’s awareness of the suffering of individuals living within the Direct Provision system through a series of emotive public performances using song and testimony. In 2012 Ceara received an Artist in the Community Scheme Research and Development Award which enabled her to research and meet with individuals and organisations associated with the asylum system. The Galway Refugee Support Group assisted by introducing the artist to individuals whom they felt might interested in being involved. Over two months the artist met with a number of women who then formed a group called ‘Able Women’. The group had five members, Veronika Ncube and four others who wish to remain anonymous.
While developing the concept for the project a reoccurring theme for the group was that of the on-going sense of loss they experienced as a result of the system and their wish for the public to know this. The artist was interested in re-interpreting the traditional Irish role of the ‘bean caoineadh’, the keening woman, one who mourns with and on behalf of a community and with the group choose to explore this through song and voice. Over the course of five months the group engaged in writing and singing workshops. Two women chose laments that were pertinent to them and choose a site for the work to be performed while three members composed testimonies to be included in the performance. Veronika Ncube was invited to Glenstal Abbey and the Irish Music Academy, UL where she learnt a sean nós lament with Noirin Ni Rian. Noirin Ni Rian was subsequently invited to perform in the work. Diversity was inherent through the exploration of each participant’s own language and songs that they connected with as well as allowing for disparate and individual experiences to be expressed.
As the project progressed, challenges emerged that reshaped the nature and outcomes of the project. For example, the artist became acutely aware of the stress the Direct Provision system placed on people’s wellbeing, not least their mental health. This resulted in a reassessment of what it could mean to participate, and the introduction of realistic levels and types of participation for each individual. Visibility was also an issue, as participants were afraid that their cases would be affected if they were seen to be opposing the system, and so some chose to remain anonymous.
Following each performance, the artist was contacted by audience members who had been moved by the performances wanting to know how they could assist individuals within the Direct Provision system. The project was a pivotal experience from which she realised a deeper appreciation of the power of performance to reach people, now a core element informing her practice. She also developed a deeper understanding of the need to continually question ethics /responsibilities of creating platforms for representing vulnerable communities.
From the outset the collaborators wished to publicly express their feelings and to raise awareness of their situation; this was achieved through the performance of Making Visible at St Nicholas’s Cathedral, the Aula Maxima, NUI Galway; IMMA, CREATE Networking Day, 2015; Culture Night, Mayo, 2014; Ormston House, Irish Refugee Council; 126 Gallery Galway, 2014; and Clár Roisin, TG4. While Able Women were aware that the project would not change their asylum status they enjoyed participating in the weekly workshops, performing in the work and in making new connections with members of the wider community.
“Well done on the Making Visible project, it was one of the impactful examinations of direct provision I have ever come across.” Fergal Landy- BSS, NQSW, LLM – School of Political Science and Sociology, NUI Galway
Ceara Conway is an Irish artist & singer working in performance, song and traditional folk practices. She has a track record in producing performance works that utilise elements such as live singing, appropriated texts, testimonies and visual art to explore social and cultural experiences of power and loss in response to issues such as exile and migration. In 2018, she is an artist in residence with Ormston House Cultural Centre, Limerick and holds a Studio Award with Dance Limerick.