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My cultural life: Niamh O'Donnell


Niamh O'Donnell

Niamh O'Donnell

Remain in Light by Talking Heads

Remain in Light by Talking Heads


Niamh O'Donnell

Niamh O'Donnell is the artistic director of Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre and the incoming director of Poetry Ireland (beginning her new role in mid-August). She is joining Poetry Ireland during an exciting period of growth with the redevelopment of No 11, Parnell Square East, which will create a significant cultural hub for north inner-city Dublin, including the Poetry Ireland Centre. She has over 25 years' professional experience in the arts, having worked with many leading organisations, including Project Arts Centre, the Gallery of Photography, Black Church Print Studio and Arthouse Multimedia Centre. Niamh is also chair of the board of Dublin Fringe Festival.

Visual Arts: Mark Rothko

I often feel I need to explain myself when I say how much I love abstract art. I studied visual communications, and Mark Rothko was part of my studies. None of what I read truly made sense until I finally visited the Rothko Room in the Tate (curated by Duncan Phillips). The moment I walked in, his work took my breath away. For the first time, I realised visual art needs to be experienced. You just need to relax, trust yourself, feel and breathe the work, and with that comes an emotional response and understanding.

Film: Viva

Directed by Paddy Breathnach and written by Mark O'Halloran. Set in Cuba, it's about a young drag performer who, after reuniting with his estranged father, must come to terms with his sexuality. This film is spectacular, sensitive and transformative. It was selected as the Irish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards but not short-listed. Seriously, watch it - they were robbed!

Music: Talking Heads

Talking Heads - any album, top volume. I went to see the film Stop Making Sense six times in the Ambassador in 1986. The image of David Byrne walking on stage with guitar and tape player still gives me goosebumps. David (right) said he wore the iconic big suit because "music is very physical and often the body understands it before the head". This is true of so much art but like so many great songwriters/poets, his lyrics are layered, intricate and meaningful. When writing budgets, I play two Talking Heads songs on repeat, singing along loudly and badly: Burning Down the House and Love For Sale. They never fail to focus my mind.

Book: Beloved, Toni Morrison

During this lockdown, I've missed bookshops (and hair product). Like all of us who have stuck stubbornly to the position of not wanting a Kindle (eye-roll), I have revisited some old favourites from my shelves. I first read Beloved in my 20s, and revisiting Toni Morrison's novels and now reading her essays, both are playing a big part of my self-study-education. I'm reading, watching and following the work of artists of colour about people of colour. I am just about to start Emma Dabiri's Don't Touch My Hair. I feel we all need to fully understand and acknowledge issues of representation, propaganda, prejudice, discrimination and racism. If we believe in democracy, diversity and inclusivity, we need to stop pretending everything is okay. It's time for those who have influence to do something and make a difference. It is time for every single one of us to stand up and speak out.

Poetry: all poems

You couldn't possibly think I would just pick one - right? I'm passionate about poetry. It speaks to us so directly, with such intimacy. Some (seriously, nowhere close to all) of my favourites are Eavan Boland's This Moment, Raneem Saleh You Think I Wear This For You?, Pat Boran's Waveforms: Bull Island Haiku, Nell Regan's You Are To Me, Rachael Holstead's Human II, Colm Keegan's Street Surfer and Felicia Olusanya For Our Mothers. But there are so many more!

Sunday Independent