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National Museum to Address Ireland’s Hidden Truths

The National Museum of Ireland are currently showcasing Alison Lowry’s exhibition ‘(A) dressing our Hidden Truths: An artistic response to the legacy of mother and baby homes and Magdalene Laundries.’

The museum describes Lowry as ‘a rather unique artist in the European context.’ Through the medium of glass she tackles discomforting topics such as child abuse and domestic violence. According to the museum, “There are parallels in this regard with other media primarily that of painting by way of theme. But there is no artist working in glass who so pointedly and effectively comments on the political, social and emotional fallout from such events as Alison Lowry.”

The Magdalene Laundries, also known as Magdalene asylums, were institutions usually run by Roman Catholic orders, which operated from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. They were established to house “fallen women”, the term used to describe those judged as having fallen from the grace of God. Often imprisoning young women who became pregnant out of wedlock, an estimated 30,000 were confined in these institutions throughout Ireland.

(A) dressing our Hidden Truths is divided into four distinct areas. These are an installation of suspended sand-cast pâte de verre (glass paste) christening robes, sculptural works responding to the theme of the Magdalene Laundries, a video piece made with performance artist Jayne Cherry and a suit of armour using glass and leather created with the internationally renowned designer Úna Burke.

Amongst the exhibition’s highlights is an installation of nine christening robes in pâte de verre spread across two rooms, suspended – as Lowry highlights in a video posted by the National Museum – like ‘ghosts’. The museum describes the work as a ‘profound piece of commentary on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home revelations’. In 2016 and 2017, excavations carried out on the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in the town of Tuam, Co Galway uncovered a significant quantity of human remains aged from 35 foetal weeks to three years.

Another striking piece of art within (A) dressing our Hidden Truths is numerous glass scissors hovering over a pile of hair. According to Lowry, the work illustrates ‘the punishment used to keep the women in line.’ In the laundries, women and children who tried to escape or broke the rules had their heads shaved involuntarily.

Part of the exhibition is also audio testimony by way of poetry and song from some of those who experienced the cruelty of the industrial school system and Magdalene Laundries.

Lowry works from her studio ‘Schoolhouse Glass’ in Saintfield, Co Down. In 2009, she graduated from the University of Ulster with a first class Honors degree in Art and Design. Since then she has won numerous awards including first place in the category, ‘Glass Art’ at the Royal Dublin Show in 2009 and 2015, the Silver medal at the Royal Ulster Arts Club’s Annual Exhibition in 2010, the Warm Glass Prize in 2010 and 2011 and more recently the Bronze Award at Bullseye Glass’ ‘Emerge’ exhibition.

Lowry exhibits both locally and internationally and her work is held in several public collections. She employs a range of techniques to create her sculptures, working primarily with cast glass and pate de verre. Her art ranges from small vessels and framed pieces to larger sculptural works.

(A) dressing our Hidden Truths is on display in the Decorative Arts and History section of the museum in Collins Barracks, Dublin 7. There it will run until May 2020.

Like all of the National Museum of Ireland’s exhibitions, entry to (A) dressing our Hidden Truths is free. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00am to 5pm and Sunday to Monday from 1.00pm to 5.00pm. There is a gift shop and café on site.

For more information about the (A) dressing our Hidden Truths exhibition, see www.museum.ie/Decorative-Arts-History/Exhibitions/Current-Exhibitions/(A)dressing-our-Hidden-Truths. Meanwhile, visit www.museum.ie/en/homepage.aspx for details of the National Museum’s other ongoing events and activities.

Featured Image Credit – Copyright Alison Lowry, photography by Glenn Norwood

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