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Claremont McKenna College

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Program Name

Ireland: Transformation of Social and Political Conflict


In 1970, Artforum, an international magazine of contemporary art, conducted a survey of various important artists asking the following question: what is your position regarding the kinds of direct political action that should be taken by artists? The question was asked in relation to the “deepening political crisis in America,” the Vietnam War. The development of television brought images of war into American homes more dramatically and immediately than any previous conflict. Though the war was taking place abroad, the violence was made real to audiences, including artists, many of whom felt pressure to respond to the political situation. Around the same time in another part of the world, violence broke out in Northern Ireland. In this case, however, the violence took place on the doorsteps and in the homes of those involved—Catholics and Protestants, republicans and loyalists, fighting over identity, religion, sovereignty, and territory—in what became known as the Troubles. Because of the similarities in timeframe between the Vietnam War and the Troubles, I felt it was fitting to appropriate Artforum’s question to the situation in Ireland and examine the interaction between art and politics there. I have made the question the foundation of my investigation of Irish contemporary art and politics, looking at Irish art created during the Troubles, with a timeframe of the late 1970s to the 1990s. As a student of both government and art history, I am constantly looking for ways to make connections between the two subjects. With this project, I wanted to know how art and politics interact for the artist and viewer—not how the two might come up in government offices, but in a gallery. In past academic pursuits, I have been led astray by art policy, which deals with issues such as artist’s resale rights, art education policy, or funding for community arts. I will have gone on a mission to find the connection between my definition of art and politics and ended up miles away from my desired destination. This project has expanded my understanding of the phrase “art and politics,” but also allowed me to focus precisely on the aspect of my choosing. More than this general notion of art and politics, I was interested in specific discussions. Is Irish contemporary art concerned with national identity—and does it deconstruct or build identity? Does public money complicate political art? Is Irish contemporary political art different? Using these questions and case studies of two Irish contemporary artists to guide me, I investigated the relationship between art and politics. What follows is a presentation and discussion of my findings.


Art Practice | Peace and Conflict Studies


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