Rita Duffy’s historico-satirical Souvenir Shop

TOMORROW, THE artist Rita Duffy’s inspired, witty, and thought-provoking exhibition/installation The Souvenir Shop, opens its doors in Number 9 Henry Street, in Galway’s historic West End.

A former sweet shop, the thatched cottage has long been associated with this unique area of the city and it is the perfect host for Duffy’s brilliantly distinctive meditation on disparate strands of Irish history.

Drawing on the idea of Proclamation signatory Thomas Clarke’s tobacconist shop, in The Souvenir Shop visitors will be able to buy surreal, openly provocative, artwork by Duffy, made with the support of the Cavan Arts Office and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association. Together they have created a range of everyday products that are poignant, absurd, and humorous.

On the run

More than 50 different items will be displayed and advertised including Rise Up baking powder, tins of Peas Process, Padraig Pearse Pasta Sauce, Black and Tan Boot Polish, a range of pastel Balaclavas that double up as tea-cosies, and more. Each object is accompanied by an explanatory narrative which highlights the legacy of 1916, its high points and low points, its relevance and its failures.

There are many hilariously sharp exhibits; Sour Aul Cleric is the title of a bottle of juice and its label shows a caped cardinal whose vivid red robes contrast with the green of the bottle. Votives comprises a series of candles, the majority of which feature embossed reverential images of familiar Nationalist icons like Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, Cú Chullain, and Bobby Sands. Then, panning across all these ‘Taig icons’ candles one is suddenly surprised to see Edward Carson, that stern pillar of Unionism.

Laundered Diesel is the title of a series of squat tans in which one can features lines from Paul Muldoon and another, the nozzles of oil pumps nestling aside each other in a tricolour-painted docking station. Free State Jam is the label on actual jam jars and its title seems all too relevant to today’s headline-grabbing issues.

The objects also reflect on WWI, where many Irish people lost their lives, including Duffy’s own grandfather, and the more recent Troubles in Northern Ireland. Throughout her works, Duffy materially connects histories that are often remembered and memorialized in a vacuum; with no connection to what was happening at the same time or what came afterwards. The Souvenir Shop is also a commentary on the commodification of the decade of celebration and commemoration, and how complicated and sometimes unfinished narratives are distorted and compressed into something that can be easily fetishised and consumed.

close shave

Duffy posits what the idea of truth in history might be and how commemorative activity engages with the legacies, possibly making history a tool in the arsenal of the status quo.

No institution, historic landmark moment, or political persuasion is exempt from Duffy’s commentary. In doing so she highlights the often unpalatable truth that some of the ambitions of the 1916 Republic have yet to be realised. Through her work, Duffy addresses her concerns about the Rising, the impact of WWI, colonisation, the Catholic Church, the Troubles, even up to the Eighth Amendment, therefore drawing a direct line from Pearse and Connolly through the 20th and now 21st century history of the island.

A Belfast woman from the Nationalist tradition, Duffy’s subversive perspective is uncompromising in confronting the complications of understanding what was unleashed at Easter 1916. She also brings the backdrop of WWI to bear on the rebellion, with her own grandfather falling during the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

A short film by Art Ó Bríain, Siopa Cuimhneachan, a Moving Still Production, was commissioned by Splanc and broadcast on TG4 earlier this year. It accompanies the installation and can also be seen on YouTube.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphries, will open The Souvenir Shop at 1.50pm tomorrow [Friday November 11]. The exhibition runs until Monday November 28.

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