Enda Bowe Captures Life on the ‘Peace Lines’

Premiering in Ireland at Dublin’s Gallery of Photography, Bowe’s series ‘Love’s Fire Song’ offers a welcome pause to reflect on the segregation of the north

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BY Pádraig Ó Meiscill in Reviews | 15 SEP 20

Of all the subjects in Irish photographer Enda Bowe’s series, ‘Love’s Fire Song’ (2019) – which depicts life on the ‘peace lines’ built to separate Unionist and Nationalist neighbourhoods in Belfast and Derry – only one looks you directly in the eyes, and that’s a babe in arms. Held swaddled in a blanket by a young father, the infant meets the viewer’s gaze head on: silent, fearless.

Bowe’s other subjects have learnt worry and insecurity – faint traces of which can be seen in their faces – but there’s also endurance and the thin lines that speak of the good humour they need to get through. Often enclosed by walls, rusting railings, fences and search lights, these people’s only escape appears to be the mammoth sky above; their only comfort, the wildflowers that sprout around them, overwhelming the fences and undermining the brickwork. 

Enda Bowe
Enda Bowe, from the series 'Love's Fire Song', 2019, colour photograph. Courtesy: the artist and Gallery of Photography Ireland, Dublin

‘Love’s Fire Song’ is a story of the people who build the bonfires that are ritually burnt in the north of Ireland to mark two significant events: King William of Orange’s victory in the 1690 Battle of the Boyne and the 1971 imprisonment without trial of 400 nationalists. Yet, the flames serve only as a backdrop to the project: when the fires are lit, the subjects retreat into the shadows, distorted beyond redemption. 

Perhaps the most formidable aspect of Bowe’s exhibition is that it demands neither premature hope nor fatalistic despair from the viewer. It offers us, instead, a welcome pause to reflect on how things stand in present moment, while its characters offer themselves up to us with all their existing contradictions. And I return to the babe in arms and her stare, which seems to say: ‘Go on, I dare you, judge us.’  
 

Enda Bowe's 'Love's Fire Song' is on view by appointment at Gallery of Photography Ireland, Dublin, until 18 October 

Main image: Enda Bowe, from the series 'Love's Fire Song', 2019, colour photograph. Courtesy: the artist and Gallery of Photography Ireland, Dublin

Pádraig Ó Meiscill is a writer based in Belfast, Ireland. More of his work can be read via The Flexible Persona.

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