The last lap of a very long road

Art reviews and news from Chris Hayes, champion of Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture

Chris Hayes


Chris Hayes

The last lap of a very long road

Curator Koyo Kouoh, speaking at the launch of EVA International Picture: Miriam O'Connor

I BEGAN this column almost a year ago – it’s been a big journey since. The bid for Limerick to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020 had just begun to pick up steam, and EVA International, Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art, had yet to kick off. Now, both of these are approaching their end.

The winner of the 2020 bid will be announced on 15 July, and EVA closes on 17 July.

It’s been a busy few months for Limerick, especially for culture. The 2020 campaign has reached the final hurdle. EVA International has brought 57 artists to Limerick, in six venues, over three months. There’s been an impressive range and diversity on offer, from conceptual video installations, to traditional craft based sculptures and even an opera.

The theme for this year’s EVA had one giant challenge to confront: how could Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art face up to the centenary of 1916? The theme from this year’s curator, Koyo Kouoh, focussed on post-colonialism, and created links between African and Irish history. This has not been without it’s controversies of course – how could a brave approach achieve anything less?

In my work with the public, many were surprised to see so many African faces and voices involved. Understandably so, as the expectation for much of the 1916 centenary celebrations was that they would involve familiar figures from Irish history and thrash out previous debates about Ireland’s sovereignty, and ideas about culture specific to this island.

In my view, EVA 2016 has been one of the best responses to the 1916 centenary precisely because of this – by taking a new look at an old history, by beginning new conversations about current status as a post-colonial country, this has felt the freshest, making history feel more radical and more vital than ever before.

Both EVA and Limerick 2020 have demanded we look deep within ourselves, and see how that fits into the bigger picture. EVA placed our own history into the wider international history of conflict and colonialism. Limerick 2020 places the story of Limerick into a larger European context.

There’s a lot of other narratives about Limerick – such as from John Moran, the former secretary general of the Department of Finance, who has argued that Limerick is well placed to become Ireland’s second major city, with the potential to grow to a population of 750,000.

While winning would be worth €170 million for Limerick, the benefits extend far beyond economic activity. From the surge of artist-run galleries around 2009-2012, to the National City of Culture in 2014 and now, the potential for Limerick to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020, the arts and culture has been central to the story of Limerick, especially in recent years.

The 2020 bid is another step towards continuing that momentum, to further develop this growing, grassroots pride in Limerick.

Let me circle back to where I began today. I started writing this column almost a year ago. It has, like I’ve said already, been a big journey – and not just for Limerick, but it’s something I’ve lived personally.

Limerick is big enough that there is always something going on, but small enough that you can get to know everyone involved. I feel I’ve really grown into the person I am today because of the fantastic community of great people here.

Win or lose, we’ve a lot to be proud of.

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