Queeriosity exhibition one of this year's highlights for August Craft Month
It is that time of year again, when many of Northern Ireland's talented artists and craft makers come together to show off their skills in August Craft Month. Among the highlights is a new exhibition celebrating art from the LGBT community – Gail Bell spoke to the curators who made it happen
IT'S big, it's brash and it's a bit of a Queeriosity – in both name and content – and it may shock, sadden, delight or illuminate visitors to the Crescent Arts Centre over the next two weeks, depending, of course, on their point of view.
But viewpoints can be capricious companions, liable to change – at least, that is what Queeriosity co-curators, Shauna McCann and Linda Smyth, are hoping for, if callers to their headline show for August Craft Month arrive with tendentious assumptions about the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bixsexual, Trangender) community whose work is being loudly celebrated in this one-off show.
Described as a "celebration of all things queer", the exhibition – which opened yesterday – is billed as one of the highlights in the 2017 annual August Craft Month which features more than 200 events, festivals, workshops, talks, demonstrations and even bus tours.
It is Northern Ireland's biggest annual platform for creativity and aims never to disappoint, promising a "hands-on" experience for everyone in venues across the north and in every conceivable art form, including glass-making, woodturning, pottery, felt-making, weaving, film-making, metal art and textiles.
Certainly, with Queeriosity, ceramicist and co-curator Shauna maintains there will be art to engage everyone – 24 artists are showcasing their work in the form of drawing, photography, textiles, sculpture, wire work, video and mixed media.
It is a show ranging from sculptures of drag queens – and drag kings – to a self-sculpture (by English transgender artist Alistair Pauley), to ceramic pink sheep and drawings and paintings "of a personal nature". Intriguingly, a rather large cake also makes an appearance, but it may have more to do with symbolism of equal marriage than edible party fare for visitors.
The Queeriosity idea stemmed from a simple desire to bring art from the LGBT community more into the mainstream arena – and it quickly took on a life of its own, largely due to Facebook, according to Shauna. who, although heterosexual herself – and married with a two-year-old child – believes no-one should be judged on their sexual orientation.
"The response, after we put out an initial call, was unbelievable," Shauna, from Co Tyrone, says. "Artists involved in the exhibition are from Northern Ireland, the Republic, England and across Europe. Our Facebook Page and word-of-mouth have brought a huge level of interest across the heterosexual, gay and transgender communities.
"There is really good stuff in the exhibition and the subject matter is quite personal, whether from young people in their second year at Art College, or from well established, professional artists.
"In terms of content, there is a lot of humour and some very thought-provoking pieces dealing with religion and equal marriage in Northern Ireland and how people are labelled or demeaned because of their sexuality."
The Ballygawley ceramicist is submitting several pieces of her own work, including a 'Royal' themed drag queen and drag king – a theme she explored in her last exhibition which dealt with metamorphosis.
"I made a piece about a drag queen and I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to make more, so I thought, why not just do a show?" she says. "The drag queens are both meaningful and fun and I hope they will encourage people to think differently.
"People should be more accepting, but, thankfully, attitudes are changing – 10 years ago, for instance, we wouldn't even have dared stage a show like this."
Her co-curator, Belfast Art College graduate Linda Smyth (29) has been openly gay since she was 14 and first met Linda when they taught art together in Belfast, teaching adults with disabilities through the Jigsaw NI organisation.
"I was very lucky and my family and friends were really supportive when I came 'out' at such a young age, but I know others have very different experiences," Lynda says. "For some, their art is a kind of therapy and helps them deal with prejudice, while, for others, it is about raising awareness of artists who just have a real talent and who just happen not to be heterosexual.
"Like Shauna, I think there is still some way to go in Northern Ireland and it makes me sad that my partner and I will have to get married in Donegal because we don't have the option here at the moment.
"It was very encouraging, though, to see such huge crowds attending the recent Belfast march for equal marriage in Northern Ireland and with the Queeriosity exhibition coinciding with Belfast Pride as well as August Craft Month, we hope the whole community will warm to themes of diversity and tolerance."
:: Queeriosity, supported by Craft NI and Visual Arts Ireland, runs at the Crescent Arts Centre from August 3-17. For full details of August Craft Month events, visit augustcraftmonth.com
CUTTING EDGE CRAFTS
IF YOU feel the daily grind is getting too much, then head to a small corner of the Antrim Glens which is turning medieval this August for life-saving lessons in how to survive the Apocalypse.
It doesn't sound like a whole lot of laughs, but, in keeping with the necessary craft theme for August Craft Month – co-ordinated by Craft NI – there will be the opportunity to make swords, knives, axes and long bows which will all come in handy for the rebuilding of civilisation.
Blacksmith Eamonn Higgins is hosting ‘Crafts to Survive the Apocalypse’ – a week-long survivalist course in his Hot Milk forge at the family farm in Martinstown, Ballymena, running from August 12-20.
Expect some bowmaking and leather work with bowcrafty, as well as blade-smithing, tool and arrowhead making and Renaissance fencing in this "male-orientated" niche of craft month, which Eamonn believes will attract "mostly men in their 30s and 40s with beards".
And, in another example of males marking their mark in what is, generally, a female dominated field, Synergy Studios in Newcastle is hosting Mancraft – a special exhibition exploring masculine themes and displaying the work of male artists working in ceramics, fused glass, metal and wood.
"Statistics show that 70 per cent of all makers in Northern Ireland are female and this exhibition, from August 3-27, seeks to spark interest in the work of male makers and encourage men to attend exhibitions and buy contemporary craft," says Nick Mack of Synergy Studios.
"I have been running this place for one and-a-half years and one of the things that has struck me is that it is predominantly women who come into my shop and women who provide the work for the shop.
"Watching men come in with their wives is like watching them in a dress shop; they have a sense that craft shops aren’t for them and I want to change that perception.
"I believe there is now a movement of men wanting to get back to using their hands, to be in control, to make stuff and grow things.
“People used to make things in order to survive, but in modern times craft has not been seen as essential, more of a luxury. Maybe we are seeing it now as something that makes life meaningful again."
August Craft Month events take place across the north, of course. In Co Armagh, Danann Crafts (dananncrafts.com), will host its annual Our Big Marketplace on Saturday, in Portadown's High St Mall. It will feature craft demos, workshops and craft sessions for children.
"We love to show off the talents that are on our doorstep and will also host many craft workshops at Our Wee Shap & Creative Hub on William Street in Lurgan," Danann's Sinead McMahon says.