Art review: An Untold Story 'a significant show' that features 50 women from north

Rose Coloured Lens, by Cara Gordon, a triptych in mixed media on canvas
Jane Hardy


An Untold Story

The Hallows Gallery


WOMEN, the oppressed majority, are having an overdue moment. So the exhibition that opened at The Hallows Gallery, Belfast, after a packed private view on Friday is highly topical.

Titled An Untold Story, borrowing a line from Maya Angelou, the paintings, drawings and sculpture reflect women's preoccupations, sorrows, joys, exuberance and style. Dr Denise Ferran, the Royal Ulster Academy's president who co-curated the show by 50 northern Irish women, has included a personal tribute to the son she lost in a fire. Oisin's Garden is an attractive evocation in oils of the Donegal garden dedicated to him. The floating flowers look like a miniature version of Monet's great impressionist water lilies and seem tranquil.

Germaine Greer said a few years back that once art bursts out of its self-obsessed, male endorsed frame, women take on a more open-ended, genuine visual interpretation of the world. Nothing is held back in this show. There is an old woman looking sad, maybe demented, in Maureen Butler's strong, highly coloured portrait. Grainne Knox, in her first gallery outing, contributes a nicely belligerent drawing, A woman's place is in the Resistance. That remains true.

Images by Jennifer Morrow in The Untold Story

Jennifer Morrow, whose two portraits emerging from the white canvas in oils with alcohol treatment creating a pleasing blotchiness, was told at university she painted "like a man". It was meant to be a compliment. Now her female art, lately influenced by motherhood, is shown in London and New York.

The outer world impinges. In Almost Untold Stories by Deborah MacAllister, an empty boat floats on the sea. It was designed for 10 people yet transported 118 refugees to safety, allowing their lives and stories to continue.

Cara Gordon's Rose Coloured Lens contains three portraits: a wife. aviator Amy Johnson and a sultry figure. As Meabh Nichol, Hallows Gallery owner and co-curator, said; "A little girl thinks she can be anything but maybe she returns to traditional roles." If you look, the paintings are deliberately flawed, paint-spattered.

Yet Barbara Allen's Aunt Catie's Lawn Mower indicates strength. And Susan Farrell's vibrant painting, Cancer 2, talks of survival. The artist, now on the BBC Big Painting Challenge, depicts her fragility after a mastectomy, with the cardboard on the bed symbolising the way she felt her body was treated like rubbish.

This is a significant show. If you wonder about the different perspective of men and women, there is art here that provides an insight into femaleness. The almost cartoon 1960s style nude, Bubble Bath in Council flat by Laura Fitchie, hirsute and unabashed, is joyous. She couldn't have been painted by a man and is saying Here I am. Or here we are.

:: An Untold Story: A Select Exhibition by Women Artists of Northern Ireland continues at The Hallows Gallery, 222 Ormeau Road, until May 12.

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