Coinciding with International Women’s Day, photographer Emily Quinn’s exhibition Art of Strength is a celebration of inspirational Irish women …
This project, which began in 2019, comprises eleven women portraying inspiring characters in Irish history, from Queen Maeve to Constance Markiewicz. Emily’s impactful photographs are styled by Catherine Condell; all the sitters are wearing Irish designers.
“The idea for Art of Strength came about as a female pal of mine had to make a big life decision,” explains Emily. “It got me thinking about all the decisions women have to make in life and often it’s our strength that moves us forward. I started to research and learned so much about so many strong women from our past and from that I picked the ones that really resonated with me.” Emily also read Eavan Boland’s poem “Art of Empire” and from that came the title of the project – “Art of Strength”.
At the opening Emily was joined by actors Jack Reynor and Olwen Fouere. Kate O’Toole, Maria Doyle Kennedy were in attendance as were designers Peter O’Brien and Helen Steele as well as fashion photographer Barry McCall.
Vicky Phelan portraying suffragette Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington.
Each sitter was carefully considered – from the first portrait of the late Vicky Phelan portraying suffragette Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, dressed by Madigan with the help of make-up artist Leonard Daly and hairstylist Jenny Crawford. “Hanna fought for women’s rights, as did Vicky, and education was so important to both, so we decided to shoot this where Vicky had studied at the University of Limerick. The backdrop was the newly built Courtroom; it all felt so apt! The books in the image belonged to my grandfather – he was the assistant general secretary in the Department of Education.”
For St Brigid, Emily chose model Aine O’Gorman. “On a car journey coming home from Kilkenny, we chatted for two hours, and Aine told me all about her climate activism, her passion for the earth and nature – it’s a passion that flows through every fibre of her being, so I knew she had to be St Brigid. I then learned she is a great-granddaughter of stained-glass artist Harry Clarke, so we chose a chapel in Belvedere College, where some of Clarke’s stained glass is on display, as he went to school there. Peter O’Brien dressed Aine, and result is a very dramatic and captivating shot.”
“I wanted Anne Devlin portrayed by someone that I felt had two parts to them. We chose Felispeaks: I felt as a poet she had a great voice in herself, but I loved that idea of Felicia being the voice of the new generation of Irish and a new powerful voice for Black and Irish. With Felicia we shot her with two Irish Wolfhounds, as Anne Devlin was buried with wolfhounds on her grave as a sign of loyalty to Robert Emmet. We dressed her in Helen Steele, with strong green tones to represent that new Irish voice.”
Lady Gregory was portrayed by actress Kate O’Toole and dressed by Natalie B Coleman. “This portrait was photographed in the Abbey Theatre in a chair that Lady Gregory used to sit in, which the Abbey took out of archive storage for the shoot, against a mirror that was commissioned in 1904.’
Eileen Gray portrayed by actress Simone Kirby, dressed by Mariad Whisker. “This was photographed at the National Museum of Ireland Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, where some of Eileen Gray’s original pieces are kept.”
Peig Sayers portrayed by actress Olwen Fouéré, dressed by Colin Burke and Lou Brennan.
Countess Markievicz portrayed by actress Charlene McKenna, dressed by Simone Rocha, photographed at Henrietta Street.
Mainie Jellett portrayed by Domino Whisker. Wearing her own embroidered top Domino is photographed against the backdrop of a Ceadogán rug and Mainie Jellett drawing.
Maeve, Queen of Connacht portrayed by Maria Doyle Kennedy, dressed by Lainey Keogh with leathers by Úna Burke, a nod to The Táin. The blanket is by Ellie Dunne for Cushendale.
Grace O’Malley portrayed by Imelda May, dressed by Úna Burke and Sharon Hoey with a brooch by Kieran Cunningham.
Maud Gonne portrayed by actress Cathy Belton, dressed by Louise Kennedy.
Photography Brian McEvoy
Need to Know: The exhibition is on in Atelier Now, Charlemont Street, Dublin 2 until Saturday, March 11, www.ateliernow.ie. For further exhibition dates please visit www.artofstrength.ie. The exhibition is sponsored by Powers Irish Whiskey, Fairstone, vStream and CKS Finance.
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