Home Rule. 1992

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Home Rule, conceived specifically for the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, combines work about Irish people and Native Americans to draw parallels between their histories. Both groups’ lands were colonized by the British, and they have come to feel a mutual sympathy—in fact, Sir Walter Raleigh’s plan for the first Virginia colony was modeled on the plantations he had established in Ireland in the early 1580s. The work is also concerned with the way dominant culture constructs “the Other” through images and packaging that stereotype colonized subjects and encourage them to stereotype and objectify themselves.

The Irish Museum of Modern Art is housed in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a seventeenth-century building that for more than 250 years served as a retirement home for English soldiers. Nearby is Kilmainham Gaol, an eighteenth-century prison converted to a heritage museum of Irish nationalism. This historical and physical context helped determine the content of Home Rule. Easter Lilies directly invokes the complex historical layering embodied by the site: the central image is a contemporary posed photograph of Irish Republican Army (IRA) provisionals, each of whom is replicated not once, but twice, the second time as a blank, grayed-out copy. The lily is the symbol of the IRA, and “Easter” refers to the Easter Rebellion of 1916, whose leaders were incarcerated in Kilmainham Gaol.

Whitewash comprises a nostalgic, ethnographic image of a traditional Irish cottage and a knitted replica, collapsed and upside down. The inversion of the cottage severs the image from its cultural context and meaning (as documentary photographs also can) and summons the figure of “Mother Ireland” and the common accusation that Irish patriots hid behind the skirts of women during the struggle for independence. The replicated ethnographic photograph in Men of Aran Knit is a kind of tourist souvenir—the currach (boat) is knitted in the famous Aran sweater pattern. Home Rule also includes a group of eleven embroidered samplers combining English patterns with quotations by various Irish patriots. These samplers make use of a significant body of Kilmainham prison literature.