In July 2019 at Galway International Arts Festival I presented work-in-progress for a new exhibition Placing Home: Hidden Stories - a commission from the festival to make work in collaboration with people from the city who have lived experience of Direct Provision. (Direct Provision in Ireland provides accommodation for asylum seekers, often in old hotels, former hostels, or guest houses). I was due to return to Galway in the Spring to pick up the conversations that had begun in 2019 exploring the concept of home, journeys of hope and a sense of belonging. Like so many things in this turbulent year, work on the project was abruptly curtailed by the global pandemic.
As part of the GIAF Autumn Edition 2020, I was invited to make an online exhibition, for which I gathered images I had taken in Galway in 2018 and 2019 that resonate with themes of confinement and freedom, isolation and belonging, and that reveal new layers of meaning in the context of COVID-19. In this time of uncertainty, anxiety and lockdown, our relationship to home - both the physical place and the emotional heart - has become more acute, more poignant. The impact of Coronavirus has exposed deep social inequality and fractured communities, making the situation for those who have lived through the trauma and disruption of displacement even more challenging.
Direct Provision was established in Ireland in 2000 to accommodate people temporarily - in theory for no more than six months - whilst their asylum claim was processed. However, the reality is that many displaced people have been trapped in the system for far longer - housed in cramped, shared rooms, with very little privacy, their daily lives subject to endless restrictions. Not knowing how long they will have to wait for the outcome of their asylum application adds to the stress of having virtually no autonomy and very limited financial means. In June 2019 there were over 7,000 men, women & children in Direct Provision across Ireland.
Many of the photos featured in the online exhibition were taken in Salthill, where the Eglinton Hotel is located. The Eglinton has been a Direct Provision centre since 2000, but it was once a popular seaside resort hotel, with an enviable view across Galway Bay towards the Clare Hills and the Aran Islands. In fine weather the promenade is busy with people heading to the beach, walking their dogs, jogging, cycling, or simply watching the world go by from one of the many seafront cafes or bars. A short walk up the road is the summer fairground, and a little further along the Blackrock Diving Tower juts out dramatically across the water.
There’s a small sign on the main door of the Eglinton saying that it is no longer open to the general public. The windows at the side of the building reveal details of daily family life squashed into small spaces; washing hanging up to dry, a kettle on the windowsill, a child's crayon drawing taped to the windowpane, a push-chair pressed up against the glass. The barred gate to the car park at the back of the hostel bears the sign 'No turning at this point’.
This work-in-progress exhibition looks forward to the new body of work I will be creating for Galway International Arts Festival 2021. In the meantime, on the Galway International Arts Festival website, you can see the 2020 online exhibition, which also includes some of my photographs of refugee settlements in Serbia, Greece and Northern France, as well as a selection of images from my series of London during Lockdown - Life in the Time of Corona.