School Portraits, an exhibition held and organized by Draíocht from the 24th of May to the 24th of June at Draíocht, displayed work of 4 artists who expressed themselves through different kinds of art form. The exhibition represented Irish school life through different times and even went deeper on student’s thoughts with a part Seen not heard.
The exhibition began with the introduction of sculptures called St Francis Street Boys 1994 by New York-based artist John Ahearn. It showed busts of 15 Irish students from the year 1994. Boys, most of them with red hair and all wearing a green school uniform, are staring at the viewer. Funny, serious, shy faces with freckles, shining brown, blue and green eyes – all sort of looks were there. “The sculptures were lifelike,” said a viewer Mary Egan. “Number 5 is so real captured, that I want to see him in real,” she added.
One of the most important aims of an artist is to interact with a visitor through his art and John Ahearn achieved it very well. “Number 7 looks exactly as I did in my childhood!” adds an attendee Tommie Lehane.
The second part of the exhibition displayed a set of oil paintings by Blaise Smith who spent a year at Presentation College, Carlow in 2011. His mission was to picture students’ everyday life. The viewers were fascinated by how real the paintings looked. You could feel your presence in the paintings, as if you are present there with other characters.
In one painting, you are attending a biology lesson, sitting at the last table, and as you move towards another painting – you find yourself standing on a lawn at the Presentation College Stadium. There are 5 students in front of you, ready to run, and you are the next. Each and every detail was well taken care of and portrayed perfectly in the painting. A green bag lying to the right from a viewer, make you feel a part of the episode.
Another photographer – Mandy O’Neill – spent 3 years (2013-2016) at Gaelschoil Bharre, Cabra. The idea was to represent the resilience of the children and the spirit of childhood during these years. O’Neill’s exhibition began with 5 big portraits of 3 girls and 3 boys, all around 12-year-old, dressed in school uniform. They are not smiling – the expressions on their faces are cold. Maybe it’s there, in their looks, where the idea of the resilience hides.
The last part of the exhibition, called Seen not heard, was made with a set of 3 screens where students from two different schools in Dublin 15 appears. The idea behind Seen not heard was to get more children’s voices. The work included lots of trust building that became possible due to an open dialog. “When you sit with children and give them an opportunity to talk, you’ll be surprised by how much they have to say. What we gave them was not a voice – children have voices – but a platform to use it,” explains Kilian Waters, the filmmaker of the project.
The topics were transition to secondary school, conversations about what art means, the topics of memory and changes and if they were aware of changes. As self-representation was the main theme, the students were free to choose what they wanted to tell. Some of them chose the gym, some the library. The choice of clothes represented the diversity of culture of every child. Many of them chose to wear school uniform, while others wore “family”-clothes, representing their religion and ethnicity.
”You learn more things, it’s an exciting time,” says one of the student. “I was scared and excited”, tells another one. The thing is, you don’t know exactly who is talking. The students on the screen sit still with their mouths closed. what you hear is the voices from the speakers above.
“Even if 43 students were involved, it’s not an actual representation of all students from the schools. I wanted to do it less specific and more universal. With video and sound separated, a person can’t link the voice with a specific child,” says Kilian Waters.