Two unique photography exhibitions exploring hair as a powerful symbol of culture and identity have opened at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, and the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar.
The exhibitions are part of a fascinating Mayo arts project entitled Crown - Hair and Identity which focuses on Traveller/Mincéiri women and girls and the subject of how hair is intrinsically linked to identity, ethnicity, culture and gender.
The exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life is entitled Crown beoir and features the women project participants
The exhibition at the Linenhall Arts Centre, entitled Crown lakeen, explores hair and identity from the perspective of the teenage girls who participated in the project.
The exhibition names draw from the Traveller language Gammon/Cant, with beoir meaning woman and lakeen meaning girl.
Crown - Hair and Identity was originated by Breda Mayock who worked with Traveller women and girls in the Maple Youth Centre, Ballinrobe, and Mayo Traveller Support Group. She worked with photographer Orla Sloyan to photograph the women with a special emphasis placed on their hair.
Explaining the project further, Ms Mayock said:
The way in which we treat our hair can tell as much about where we come from as our language or accent. In almost all societies hair is a strong form of self-expression. Exploring hair rituals and practises in minority cultures is particularly compelling because hair often communicates an unspoken expression of identity.
Exploring hair with Traveller women offers an opportunity to celebrate this aspect of Traveller culture. Hair is an intensively private matter but it is also a form of self-expression that is publicly visible. It can convey how we want to be seen and also determine how we are seen. Traveller women’s hair as a subject of elaboration symbolises a unique form of creative expression and identity.”
Welcoming the exhibition to the National Museum of Ireland, Rosa Meehan, curator, said:
The Museum is delighted to host this dynamic exhibition. We are very grateful to the women who feature in the photographs. In this gorgeous portrait exhibition, they generously share the beauty of their hair and hair styles. We are all familiar with hair and perhaps know a little of different traditions around hair. This exhibition gives us an opportunity to explore and deepen conversations about identity and culture from the female perspective and from within the richness of Traveller culture. Sincere thanks is due to the artist Breda Mayock and to photographer Orla Sloyan for their empowering work and for bringing this exhibition to the Museum. This is a very beautiful and engaging exhibition and one not to be missed.”
Welcoming the exhibition to the Linenhall Arts Centre, Orla Henihan, Arts Access Officer, said:
It is a joy for us to present Crown lakeen as our 21st annual exhibition curated specifically with young audiences in mind at the Linenhall Arts Centre. These photographic portraits are a wonderful celebration of Traveller culture and identity, and the girls featured have shown a real generosity in sharing this with us. Young people constantly amaze us with their insightful reflections on the art work in our gallery, and we really look forward to sharing this exhibition with them.”
Irish Travellers or Mincéirí are an indigenous ethnic minority group who have been part of Irish society for centuries. Travellers share traditions, cultural values, language and customs that make them a distinct group. Within Irish Travelling culture nomadism as a way of life distinguishes them from the settled population.
Traveller women have a unique aesthetic expression. How they express themselves and their sense of identity through their hair is a source of intrigue.
Why this long luxurious flow in all its glory - plaits, rolls, ribbons, top knots and curls? What have the women to say about their hair, its physical appearance, its traditions, its rituals, and what it means to them?
The portraits in these exhibitions quietly offer some of the answers.
The project participants will also be heard in two very special short films created by the award-winning filmmaker Mia Mullarkey. They will feature the Traveller/Mincéir women and girls, their portraits, the connection they have to their hair and their expression of their unique Traveller identity.
The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life will launch its film as part of Mayo Social Inclusion Awareness Week (12 to 18 October) while the Linenhall Arts Centre will be making a film aimed at younger audiences as an engaging resource for schools to explore the exhibition themes.
For further information on the project and the exhibitions, visit www.crownupclose.ie, www.thelinenhall.com and www.museum.ie/countrylife.
Support for this work from Creative Ireland Mayo, Mayo County Council Arts Service and the Healthy Ireland Fund is gratefully acknowledged.