In a new imaginary world, My Generation – a new set of large scale temporary artworks in Cork City Centre – tackles a social norm where colour is a concept created, and creates a society where everyone is understanding, respectful and proud of the different colours that are present. A social imaginary world where there is no discrimination.
The recent resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement created a revolution in different forms of art, not only in the States, but in Cork City as well. The street art that has been created states a clear, strong message; and vies to change the perspectives of people across the city. With the movement gaining momentum, the My Generation project, sparked by a group of teenagers who work with the Cork Migrant Centre [CMC] and the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, shares their experience of racism with the rest of the city. Print-pasting, the form of art that My Generation uses is widely seen throughout Cork City. The exhibition currently hangs up on Kryl’s Quay and Cork City Library, displaying its message to all civilians that pass by those parts of the city.
With the help of renowned print-pasting artist Kate O’Shea, the teenagers of the Cork Migrant Centre could express their opinions about racism and were able to let their voices be heard through the collages of print-pasting in Cork City. O’Shea’s major focuses are on the social arts practices which usually involve social spaces such as buildings, books and in the case of My Generation, the streets as well. The exhibition was formally opened on Culture Night, which was on Friday, 18th of September, and gained the attention of the public and the media alike.
The concept of the exhibition is a series of experiences as told by teenage asylum seekers and migrants all across Cork City and county, whose use of street art allows them to raise questions and generate new ideas within shared civic spaces. The initial process of combining the experiences of the youth within the artwork involved O’Shea and the teenagers sitting down and talking about their experiences of what it’s like to be a member of a minority group in Ireland. Questions that arose involved injustices in Direct Provision centres; the fear of deportation, as well as regular things that a teenager would struggle with, be it in school or in their social lives. There was a mix of experiences that had been expressed throughout the process. O’Shea highlights that “it was the teenagers involved and everyone else there that made me want to be a part of [My Generation]”. She confirmed that the Glucksman has worked with these teenagers for several years, creating a proper sense of integrity in the relationships between the Cork Migrant Centre; renowned Cork DJ Stevie G, and the teenagers themselves. As an artist, O’Shea also commented that art projects usually end up becoming quite tokenistic; but, trusting everyone involved, she knew that this would be different – an exhibition that showcases the voices of teenagers who were adamant to talk about what was happening in a way that they understood.
The recreation of a social imaginary world raised the question of ‘What is Colour?’ – a question that has created a lot of discrimination towards minorities across the whole world, as well as in Cork City. The main focus of being heard, understood and listened to is demonstrated in this exhibition, with murals consisting of the actual handwriting of the teenagers, the collages that they have put together and photographs of themselves. What keeps arising in each mural revolves around the central question – ‘What is Colour?’
Ugonna, one of the teenagers who worked on the exhibition describes her curiosity around what peoples’ perception would be about colour. “What do they associate with [a particular colour]? Is it positive? Is it negative?” She wants the people who stop to stare at these murals to question what they were taught, or what they believe in. In our world where racism is still active, she wants people to put this question into practice – to question what they associate with a particular colour, be it the colour of a butterfly’s wings or the colour of a person’s skin. Colour is what is defining racism, and in this social imaginary world of My Generation, people see through colour and do not judge one another for the colour of their skin.
The bold colours that are collaged together in the murals portray the different shades that people look at, and make them wonder what it is that makes them different – what makes a particular colour be ‘out of place’?
Senior Curator of the Glucksman Gallery, Tadhg Crowley, adds that “these young people have taken stunning photographs of themselves as they’d like to be represented in the public realm, to challenge perceptions, to ask questions and to present positive images of young people alongside their messages of what change they feel is needed to create a positive future”.
Ugonna also states that, growing up, she never really understood what racism was and when it first was ‘taught’ to her it was as if it had come out of thin air. Even though she did not know when her life with racism had started and she could not find a proper reasoning behind it, she has learned to move past it. She knows that in her life she will come across people who will hate her with a passion because of the colour of her skin, but she knows that it will not affect her. Using this, she has portrayed her experiences into My Generation. She also stated that she enjoyed creating the artwork and the fact that she was able to voice her opinions and channel them into this piece, creating something that holds a strong message.
Joshua, another teenager involved in the project, who lives in Drishane Accommodation Centre, had the following to say: “I enjoyed helping create this artwork because I learned a lot from the workshops. It made me realise the different people that are excluded from society and
also helped me to be more creative. I was delighted to get the opportunity to do some
photography [as well] which was a good experience”.
With Culture Night wrapped up on the 18th of September – where most of its events were virtual, online or outdoor events, the Glucksman Gallery unveiled the temporary artworks across Cork City at public areas such as Cork City Library and Kryl’s Quay, free for viewing to anyone.
My Generation is part of the Glucksman Creative Agency programme which enables young refugees and asylum seekers to present their voices and views in the public realm. This
Glucksman project is funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and is run in partnership with the
Cork Migrant Centre, Nano Nagle Place.