Spectacular Queer and Inclusive Art coming to Offaly

We find out more about the Spectacular Vernacular programme and some of the fabulous new queer and inclusive art their bringing to Offaly.

Three pieces of queer art showing in Offaly this month. Far left, a photograph or a black woman with a white sheet wrapped around her head and her body. Middle, a sketch of a black woman smiling against a stark white background. Far right, a sepia tones photograph with vertical lines run across it. The photograph is of a man resting his face on his hands with a flower in his hair.
Image: Breda Mayock/Joe Caslin/Alan Phelan

April sees a host of fantastic queer and inclusive art initiatives taking place across Offaly as part of Spectacular Vernacular; a curated programme of multi-disciplinary, inclusive arts activities in community outdoor spaces.

The programme has been developed through the ‘In the Open/Faoin Spéir’ Arts Council of Ireland fund in response to the COVID-19 crisis and is a collaborative partnership led by Offaly County Council Arts Office with Birr Theatre and Arts Centre, the Museum of Everyone and Birr Festivals Collective. The programme is curated by Brendan Fox, founder of the Museum of Everyone and co-deviser of the REWIND<<FASTFOWARD>>RECORD initiative.

Brendan explained to GCN, “The development of Spectacular Vernacular came from a necessity to weave the fabric of historic traditions into the contemporary cultures of Offaly through the arts. 


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“Over the last 2 years, the isolation felt by both the queer community and other marginalised groups was exasperated in rural locations. Among some of the questions that this series of events raises are; Can we develop a space for discourse around inclusivity in the arts rurally? Can we define a place where art can be ‘useful’ in sharing narratives that may never have been expressed before? And, fundamentally is there a way for these groups to access the arts and define themselves culturally?”

He concluded, “This project is about connecting groups that had never considered the arts as an outlet or a way of exorcising their collective issues. It is about representing all members of our community. It is about listening to the quieter voices, and defining a new landscape together.” 

Whilst programme events have been taking place since last January, April sees Spectacular Vernacular cast a particular focus on queer art, a real departure for Offaly. Here are some of the exciting queer and inclusive initiatives that caught our eye.


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‘RGB BIRR’ by Alan Phelan
Birr Castle Visitor Centre & Birr Town, until April 27th
Picking up on themes from his ‘RGB Sconce: Hold Your Nose’ sculpture outside Dublin’s City Hall, artist Alan Phelan expands his project to focus on the history of Birr Castle which houses Ireland’s oldest photography darkroom. Working with the Joly screen process, a colour photography method invented by Offaly native John Joly, an exhibition of these illuminated photographs will be held in the Tea Rooms of the Birr Castle Courtyard.

Similar to the sculpture, railings around Birr town have been painted red, green and blue to mirror the Joly colour screens. The exhibition includes images featuring writer and performer Stefan Fae in poses that reference early male nude photography and references several other historical narratives including the floral-themed poetry pamphlet related to the Dublin Castle Scandal.

Text Installations by Diana Bamimeke
Bridge Centre, Tullamore, until April 27th
Following a series of workshops conducted by Bamineke, the independent curator and writer will exhibit some of the texts developed by participants through their framework of ‘critico-production’. 

They imagine criticism to be refashioned as a poem, a catalogue entry, a scene from a kitchen-sink drama or any other form of what they coin to be ‘critico-fiction’.

Street Art by Joe Caslin
Tullamore Train Station, Sunday, April 3
Joe Caslin made headlines during the campaign for the 2015 Marriage Referendum when his three-storey high mural on the side of a building on Georges Street in Dublin came under fire from the City Council. Since then he has gone on to become one of the country’s most identifiable activist street artists.  

For Spectacular Vernacular, Caslin will create one of his unique signature wall pieces in Tullamore. Following a series of conversations and interactions with asylum seekers in Offaly, this project centres around identity, representation and connecting established and new communities in Tullamore through creativity and action.

‘Crowned: Exploring Black Hair Culture’ by Breda Mayock
Tullamore Library windows, until April 18th
‘Crowned’ explores the innate subject of hair with black women living in Ireland. A series of conversations with artist Breda Mayock has originated an exhibition of photographs portraying the women’s personal expression of the subject. This is accompanied by a video that shares the voices of Amanda Nyoni, Cassandra Corbet & Phina Echeruwe, Sharon Dmpofu and Confidence Musarurgwa. 

Struggles around identity, self-care and freedom of expression are discussed as the women share their experiences of overcoming colonial narratives of afro hair and of reclaiming their beauty.

Crowned is also a celebration of the journey, of what has been learned and of what can be achieved in time to come.

‘RFR @ Tullamore’
Tullamore Town Centre, April 23
To conclude Spectacular Vernacular, the REWIND<<FASTFORWARD>>RECORD (RFR) initiative will launch their ‘RFR @ Tullamore’ programme.

In the second phase of the initiative, RFR will transfer the queer art from the current exhibition at IMMA to be expanded across the three-week residency in Offaly. The initiative will host a series of events including an out in the open exhibition of protest banners and a video installation. More details of the RFR @ Tullamore programme will be announced soon.

You can find a full listing of Spectacular Vernacular events here.

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