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ArtBeat: Féile an Earraigh, Guernica and Ukraine, Francis Bacon, Big Telly Theatre Company and President Zelensky

Notes and musings from the arts scene as it continues to emerge from lockdown, by Jane Hardy

Francis Bacon: the Story of his Life is a graphic novel about the Dublin-born artist, who died in 1992.

IT is Féile an Earraigh time and we're midway through its tempting programme, with cultural treats such as today's Tin Whistle Challenge at 11.30am at the Cultúrlann Mcadam Ó Fiaich, Falls Road.

Sometimes politics and art make beautiful music. Think of the savage force of Guernica - Picasso's take on the 1937 Nazi bombing of the Basque town - which I remember seeing in London with my mother a long time ago.

Of course, given the situation since Russia's attack on Ukraine, there has been another form of politics invading the arts. That's the outright ban, the straight embargo of cultural events produced by the enemy, or at least our ally's enemy.

So, for example, the British tour of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia has been abruptly cancelled, artists (who may not approve of the events taking place back home) have had to pack their bags. And the Bolshoi won't be coming to London's Royal Opera House.

These tough cultural sanctions can hurt the innocent as well as the big bad guys. Shostakovich, when challenged during an interview in America, refused to produce outright condemnation of Stalin, saying the journalists risked nothing, he risked everything.

I agree that the virtue signalling could be a little over the top. Cleverly, Northern Ireland has found, post-Troubles, a different artistic solution.

Here we practise a kind of cultural osmosis, with both sides of Ulster's bloody debate encouraged to tell their stories, with events like Féile an Phobail and the Eastside Arts Festival playing their part.

However, if you want a sense of the raw cruelty of the human condition you could do worse than go see the Irish-born but London-based artist Francis Bacon's work in the Ulster Museum. His Head II (1949), for example, is both animal and sinister.

The painter produced the most magnificently disturbing portraits of the 20th century, including his Screaming Pope series.

Now Bacon will reach a new audience. Via, of all things, a colourful graphic (both senses) novel, Francis Bacon: the Story of his Life, by Cristina Portolano (Prestel).

To find out more, you can visit Bacon's famously messy studio, the room as smeared as his palette, in the Dublin City Gallery aka the Hugh Lane.

It was lovingly relocated, with 100 slashed canvases and 2000 items of artist's kit, from London in 1998.

Apparently Ukrainian geography might lend itself to guerrilla warfare (hopefully not) but what about Portrush?

The Big Telly Theatre Company (big-telly.com) is staging one of its innovative dramatic outings from March 17-19 where you move around town like a spy - it's immersive, so we all join in, mobiles at the ready, to undertake a mystery assignation.

Finally, this week we learnt political oratory, and courage, are not dead.

President Zelensky's speech to the Houses of Parliament referenced Shakespeare's most famous soliloquy, Hamlet's "To be, or not to be", had Churchillian rhythms and moral force. British politicians, take note.

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