Our current exhibition, Voices from Westminster, features photographs taken of various politicians within the walls of Westminster by John Stewart Farrier. The general theme behind this exhibition is one of art about politics; the artist Gemma Gallagher demonstrates how art does not have to be confined to this by representing environments which have been shaped by politically motivated situations, and the harsh realities of war.
The exhibition, ‘A Troubled Romance’ is an exploration of romanticism in relation to violence and war, derived from Gallagher’s experience growing up in a divided society within the socio-political situations in Northern Ireland. Her aim was to consider the complexities of what drives people and politicians to war, and examine alternative perspectives of political conflict: the subjective and objective, the romance and the reality.
Gallagher’s work is political, yet not in the sense that she is attempting to make a political statement, or creating something to influence the viewer’s political opinion. She simply made it because it is an issue and a conflict that she is personally affected by, commenting “you cannot live and breathe in a society which has had 30 years of politically motivated violence without it having some kind of impact on you”.
The romance in her work is influenced by the history of her country, be it through storytelling and poetry, or folk songs and street murals. The romance that attaches people to war and struggle is apparent through these and she, like many others, cannot help but view her country’s history as romantic, to see sacrifices as heroic – regardless of political stance. The character of romantic hero is one which has grown out of reading poetry by Yeats, where negative charges against the revolutionaries are balanced with a more romantically heroic description, a balance which she strives to portray visually through her paintings.
A series of contrasts are presented to the viewer through both the imagery used and the physical material of the work. The use of expressive painterly marks contrasts starkly with the factual printed image. An imagined, attractive, almost ideal world is interrupted with mechanical aesthetics which represent the conflict between perspectives.
Gallagher does not view her work as overtly political in as much that she is not seeking to support the opinions of a political party or even convey a particular political stance, the aim is to evaluate the romanticism people feel towards these situations. She says that she references Northern Ireland subtly through the titles of her work to make it visually transferable to any country, a feeling which is especially relevant at this time.
Gemma is currently working on a series of drawings and photographs inspired by visits to Cambodia, and how the country’s tragic history is intertwined with mythology and the spiritual history and culture of the country.
All images © Gemma Gallagher
Written by Stephanie Jenkins.
Our current exhibition, Voices from Westminster by John Stewart Farrier can be seen at The Strand Gallery between 3rd – 13th July.
Further examples of Gemma’s work can be seen here.