Thursday 22 March 2018

What lies beneath: Take the medicine by Cathy Hayes

Take the Medicine
Take the Medicine

Niall MacMonagle

Long ago, country children in Irish primary schools brought a sod of turf to school during the winter and in May they brought flowers for the May altar. Not any more, not any more. Then, open fires were the only option. Now, statues in classrooms have all but disappeared. Ireland has always known change but recent changes have been radical: today the country is more open, liberal, multi-cultural, questioning. Healthier

The old certainties and authorities, "the priest, the doctor, the teacher", have faded; the Catholic Church has been seismically shaken. The Sacred Heart, The Blessed Virgin are viewed differently now and artist Cathy Hayes in her new show, The Immaculate Misconceptions, looks at the presence, power and effect of the Virgin Mary. She explores what she terms "the impact of the Virgin mythology on contemporary female identity".

Hayes studied at Chelsea School of Art and the College of the Bahamas, she's been to the Arctic and Argentina and when she and her family returned to Ireland in 2005 it was, she felt, "a new country".

She challenges "church dogma" and "the traditional constructions of female sexuality and of our current relationship with contemporary consumer culture".

Once, during a life-drawing class, a prostrated, passive female figure reminded Hayes of The Annunciation.

Hayes reinterprets and captures not only the body but the libido, what's going on in the woman's mind.

She has researched "the treatment of suffering, silent endurance, and passivity as model characteristics of 'good' or accepted female behaviour".

Traditionally, the male gaze painted the female nude but Hayes also finds this subject matter rewarding. Here, the structure flows sensuously; the figure is liberated, relaxed and yet, for Hayes, the red high heels are "a female equivalent to the crown of thorns". Female freedom or female oppression?

She is shocked by "how much female oppression is now unconsciously perpetuated by women".

Mary Robinson was reprimanded once by a nun for whistling in her convent school corridor: 'Our Lady never whistled'. But, Sister, how do you know?

I hope that other Mary skipped and whistled down corridors as a young girl. And I hope she whistled a happy tune.

The Immaculate Misconceptions, new work by Cathy Hayes, runs at the Origin Gallery, 37 Fitzwilliam St, Dublin 2, until May 30.

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