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Issue 239

EVA International Tackles Notions of Citizenship

Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art delicately weaves weighty issues into Limerick’s surroundings

BY Nadia Egan in Exhibition Reviews | 18 SEP 23

The core programme of the 40th edition of EVA International, which describes itself as ‘Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art’, revolves around ideas of citizenship. Examined in the context of both the individual and the nation-state, citizenship was a topic that felt especially relevant according to director Matt Packer and his team as they prepared for this year’s edition. The theme is significant not only in Ireland, where there is an increasing occurrence of anti-immigration protests and a surge of British nationals seeking ancestral citizenship following Brexit, but also on a global scale, coinciding with civil-rights issues, further accentuated by the displacement of peoples due to wars such as that in Ukraine.

Frank Sweeney, Few Can See, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: EVA International

Frank Sweeney’s Few Can See (2023) is one of the six pieces commissioned under the theme of citizenship. The work delves into the historical impact of censorship on Irish and British broadcasts during the Northern Ireland conflict of the late 1960s–1990s. It attempts to reconstruct content expunged from state archives due to censorship, drawing from oral history interviews with individuals who experienced censorship and those employed by state broadcasters at the time. The film plays on a compact television placed within a recreated living room, complete with the orange and brown interior design characteristic of the 1970s. The room’s walls are adorned with posters and photographs from that era, serving as a deliberate effort to authentically capture the atmosphere of the time. Through Sweeney’s attention to detail, the reconstructed footage effectively immerses viewers in the tumultuous period when Northern Ireland was wracked by an ethno-nationalist conflict that grappled with the complexities of colonial histories and ideas of nationhood.

Elsewhere, Sebastian Cichocki’s guest-curated programme draws its inspiration from the practice of gleaning – gathering leftover grain after a harvest – and expands this concept to become both an artistic theme and a metaphor for approaching curation, delving into art’s relationship with society and nature. As part of an effort to integrate the biennial into the city’s landscape, the programme features artworks placed in various locales such as a school, a café, a university campus and a cathedral.

Clodagh Emoe, Reflections on a City Lot, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: EVA International

One such artwork is Navine G. Dossos’s The Grove (2023), an expansive, floor-to-ceiling mural that envelops all walls of a vegetarian cafe bearing the same name. The mural portrays a diverse array of foods that can be foraged in Limerick, including hazelnuts, wild cherries and watercress. Dossos has positioned the foods at the height one would typically pick them, contributing to an overall sensation of being in a grove. The work extends beyond mere aesthetic adornment; it carries a more profound message about how the bounties of nature become apparent when we seek them out and serves as a reminder of the current vulnerability of our natural world.

Adding an international perspective to the discussion is Sana Shahmuradova Tanska, who, during her residency earlier this year at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art, created a number of paintings that contemplate the food crisis in her native Ukraine stemming from the devastation of fields, granaries and Russia’s trade blockades. One particularly emotional work is Fiery Harvest (2023), inspired by a video captured in the summer of 2022 showing a Ukrainian man attempting to extinguish burning grain with his bare hands.

Kian Benson Bailes, Cailleach boy i and Cailleach boy ii, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: EVA International

When asked whether cafe visitors would appreciate being surrounded by an artwork addressing the climate crisis, Dossos explained that her intention was not to create something forcefully imposed but, rather, a piece that could be absorbed gently. This sentiment aligns with the overall approach of the biennial, where weighty subjects like the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine are undeniably present but delicately integrated. Intended to become part of the city’s cultural tapestry, this programme has a subtlety that allows it to have a broad reach while maintaining a strong connection to the surrounding community of Limerick. 

EVA International takes places across various venues in Limerick until 29 October 

Main image: Navine G. Dossos, The Grove, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: EVA International

Nadia Egan is a writer, editor and critic. She is based in Berlin, Germany.