From Booker prize to hip-hop ... Ireland catches the cultural breeze
From Booker prize to hip-hop ... Ireland catches the cultural breeze The Observer Ireland From Booker prize to hip-hop ... Ireland catches the cultural breeze
Fears about Brexit have not dented the ambition of a new generation of talent, as the arts boom amid a new social order
Talk of Irelandâs recovery usually evokes economic metrics of GDP growth rates, surging house prices and the number of cranes erecting hotels and offic e blocks in Dublin.
However, there is another flourishing under way which is less known and less measurable but becoming ever more apparent: an arts boom.
Many Irish writers, poets, musicians, painters, filmmakers and architects are thriving as seldom before, innovating, experimenting and winning recognition at home and abroad in what amounts to a collective cultural blossoming.
Anna Burnsâs Man Booker prize win last week for her third novel, Milkman, is the latest sign that artists from Northern Ireland and the Republic are enjoying a moment just as Brexit puts their border under a microscope.
The Bookerâs chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, called the Troubles-set novel incredibly original. âNone of us has ever read anything like this before â¦ Anna Burnsâs utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose.â
Artists in multiple fields are winning accolades and new audience s, reflecting a confluence of greater financial support, emerging homegrown and immigrant talent and a wave of energy from Irelandâs social liberalisation.
Stephen James Smith, 36, a spoken word poet from Tallaght, west Dublin, is currently on his first British tour after recording videos that have garnered more than two and a half million views and put him on a US university syllabus.
âSeventeen gigs in 20 days, oof,â he said, speaking on the eve of his London show on Thursday. âThe ticket numbers are good. The people coming are not always from the Irish community.â
Works by Eve Parnell, a painter from Dublin, have just gone on show at the Royal Society of Marine Artists in London following a debut at the Royal Academy summer show and exhibitions in Scandinavia, Germany and Italy. âI donât think itâs about the nationality â" itâs a comment on the work,â said Parnell, who is in her 30s. âBut itâs a nice opportunity to represent Ireland.â
Theatre groups such as Pan Pan, Anu and ThisIsPopBaby have electrified audiences at home with groundbreaking works like Riot, a mash-up of theatre, variety, dance and performance art, before taking them overseas.
Julia Carruthers, programme director at Warwick Arts Centre and a former director of the Dublin Dance Festival, said Irish dance works led the field in integrating design, text and movement.
âThey are ahead of the curve on the Brits and the Europeans. Youâd see something first in Ireland, say the way projections are used on stage, and then a few years later see it on stage in Manchester.â
Martin Hayes, a fiddler with The Gloaming, is pushing musical boundaries, said Carruthers. âItâs not the diddly dee traditional stuff, itâs innovative, cutting edge.â
The Wexford Festival Opera, voted the best in the world last year, opened on 19 October with a programme of three operas over three weekends. âThriving â" thatâs a good phrase to use. The arts are performing well according to many barometers,â said chief executive David McLoughlin.
An underground urban music scene has broken into the mainstream led by the likes of hip-hop rapper Jafaris and R&B singer SoulÃ©. âHip-hop with an Irish liltâ marvelled the New York Times. Twenty-two Irish acts played at this yearâs Great Escape Festival, up from 12 last year. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, co-founders of Grafton Architects, curated this yearâs Venice Architecture Biennale, dazzling critics with their theme of âfreespaceâ. Film director Lance Daly has turned the famine into a blockbuster revenge thriller, Black â47. On and on it goes, a list of Irish creators winning commissions, prizes and audiences.
âThereâs fantastic ambition â" an ambition to strive for excellence and new ways of telling stories,â said Louise Lowe, Anuâs artistic director. Irelandâs transformation to a country that appointed a gay prime minister and voted to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion has energised artists, said Lowe. âWeâre in a new social world order.â
Another factor is the generation of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean who came to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger era. Among them was Loah, originally from Sierra Leone, who worked as a pharmacist in south Dublin before becoming a queen of soul. She joined Lisa Hannigan, Saint Sister and others at the Barbicanâs Imagining Ireland festival in London in March.
When Hannigan and Andrew Hozier-Byrne became popular the music industry paid closer attention to Irish talent, said Angela Dorgan, founder of First Music Contact, a state-funded resource for musicians. âAs success happens, heads turn.â
Strong growth rates have filled government coffers and replenished cash for the Arts Council and Culture Ireland, state-funded bodies that nurture talent. Culture Ireland received additional funding for G B18, a year-long focus on Irish arts in Britain, said Christine Sisk, the groupâs director. âThe decision was taken before the Brexit vote and based purely on opportunities for artists.â
But the economic boom is a double-edged sword: rising rents are driving artists out of Dublin and Ireland altogether and towards cities in mainland Europe.
The output of those who stay often reflects an unequal, gritty Ireland at odds with the image of a shiny, progressive beacon. Roddy Doyle turned his lens on Irelandâs housing crisis in the film Rosie, a drama seen through the eyes of a mother on the verge of homelessness.
Despite his success with a UK tour and viral video, Stephen James Smith, said he needs cheaper accommodation. âDublin is becoming gentrified. The soul is being taken out of it, in part,â he says. âIâm thinking Belfast.â
â¢ Sally Rooney, who wrote the novel Conversations With Friends, has been calle d a âSalinger for generation Snapchatâ.
â¢ Anu theatre company upends convention with immersive works.
â¢ Jesse Jonesâs show Tremble reimagines a feminist history.
â¢ Black â47, a big-screen revenge thriller set during the potato famine of the 1840s.
â¢ Oona Doherty channels explosive energy through dance.
â¢ Stephen James Smithâs poems such as Dublin You Are have become central to the spoken word scene.
â¢ Jafaris, or Percy Chamburuka, arrived from Zimbabwe aged six and is leading a hip-hop wave.
â¢ Slow Moving Clouds, A Dublin trio who fuse Nordic folk, post-punk vibe and falsetto vocals.
â¢ Wexford Festival Opera is bouncing back to full strength after the recession.
â¢ Imagining Ireland â" the Barbican in London staged an Irish music showcase in M arch.Topics
- The Observer
- Performance art
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