Sinéad Dinneen

Extraordinary visual artist with a unique take on the human condition

Sinéad Dinneen

Born in Murroe, I had a very rural and visually stimulating childhood, living just outside the local village.

My father was the manager of the local forestry service so we spent many days in the nearby forests. We, also, went turf cutting, sowing potatoes, picking blackberries and traipsing through local farmers’ fields with friends. I was educated in Murroe primary school, and Doon Convent of Mercy, (where I discovered visual art education). From there it was a natural progression to study Fine Art Sculpture in Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD). Along the way, I also completed a Diploma in Art and Design Education, and much later on, an MA in Interactive Media, from the University of Limerick (UL). I would love to attend Art College again, this time to study Fine Art Printmaking.

Growing-up we always seemed to have something perpetually in our hands.

Indeed, my mother frequently gave us homemade play dough, Plasticine, and mud pies with sawdust, which we would invariably sculpt into animals and people. When I was a first year student at the Convent of Mercy, in Doon, I noticed our art teacher, Mr O’Brien, teaching in the art room. Immediately, I knew that I wanted to be part of that world. Today, I work mostly with printmaking techniques and clay combined with those same sewing techniques that I learned during home economics. I like the artistic medium to express the need of the subject. Such media may include; video, sound, drawings, paper or clay. Crucially, I am a member of Limerick Printmakers, who really have raised the bar and promoted the artistic community, with their professional approach.

The artistic gene was always in our family.

My aunt, who died two years ago, was very artistic. In fact, I loved watching her make her own very quirky clothes, fabric wall hangings and tapestries. She even attended drawing classes close to her death. If she had lived in another era she would certainly have gone on to Art College. My maternal grandmother meanwhile mended broken items, with my mother chipping-in, with a bit of DIY. Today, my sister, Orla, is hugely creative with fellow sister, Niamh, studying fashion at LSAD. We all share the same fascination for printmaking. Topping off the family tree is my youngest sister, Eimear, who trained as a Web/Graphic Designer also. So when it came to the creative arts, the ‘Dinneen Girls’ certainly had it in spades.

Over the past two years I have decided to express visually what it is like to be living with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer.

My artistic themes revolve around what it is like to be told that you have cancer while visually documenting your everyday experiences. This was something that I didn’t plan, as such, but as soon as I was able, I started using drawings and photography to document aspects of what was happening to me. In all this, I was lucky enough to have the support of fellow artists and friends such as; Pauline Goggin and Sylvia Corcoran, as well as my partner, Damian Coughlan.

Being surrounded by the effects of this chronic illness on a daily basis it is not difficult to find outlets for my work.

Those areas that I find most interesting to document are the medical world I now inhabit. For example, I tend to enjoy listening to oncologists, nurses, and gynaecologists, family members, and friends discussing medical situations. I, also, listen intently to other patients with Ovarian (and other types of) Cancer. I, then, record their words, or phrases, which are sometimes used as pieces of text to accompany new pieces of art. Recurring themes in my work include; death, grieving, the female body, chronic illness, rituals, religion, cancer, mourning and love.

Research into Victorian mourning rituals and those symbols of mourning and grief endemic to our culture, permeate my style.

In particular, I have been influenced by the late British photographer, Jo Spence, (1934-1992), who used her own body as a model to deal with chronic illness, while questioning society’s thinking about medical processes. My inspiration comes from within; I want to challenge perceptions through my art, and to start a dialogue about what it is like to live with a chronic illness. I want to explore the consequences of that illness, its impact on my life, and what it is like dealing with impending death.

Being your own advocate is as challenging a role as being an artist itself.

There is, also, a huge amount of rejection involved in terms of exhibitions, and funding proposals. It can be a tough career path to take. However, I am a bit different in that I have been working in visual art education for years, and partly because of my ill-health, am able to fulfil my role as an artist through receiving some much valued support. Nevertheless, you have to be your own spokesperson, marketing director, writer, fundraiser, social media guru, and advocate.

For the future, I would love if our city could achieve an even bigger expression of the visual arts, than in 2014.

I, also, hope that more funding will go into the arts, health orientated exhibitions and conferences. This could, perhaps, also link-in with Limerick aspiring to be part of the world network of compassionate communities!

For more information about the artist please see: Sinéad Dinneen will exhibit at a symposium in LSAD entitled ‘Death, Disease and Design’, on 21 April She is currently running a series of workshops entitled ‘Kicking The Bucket’ on illness, dying, death and grief.An exhibition of her vessels and artifacts will take place in Central Buildings, at 51a O’Connell St., on 12 May. She will, also, be an invited artist at the IPOS World Conference on ‘Psycho-Oncology’, in Dublin, next October.

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