Sarah Honan – Blink.
Blink. is a powerful installation of paintings by Waterford artist Sarah Honan that was inspired by morgue photographs of 18 American Jane Doe’s who, in death, became nameless. It runs in a disused shop-window on the corner of O’Connell Street and Meetinghouse Lane until 15th March. In the run-up to International Women’s Day on 8th March, Sarah hopes the installation will provoke discussion of isolation, human connection and remembrance, as well as honouring, memorialising and celebrating the lives of those whose identities have been lost.
“The treatment and representation of women globally is the single greatest civil rights issue of our time. Blink. is my way of contributing to the dialogue this International Women’s Day. These are forgotten women, many of whom were victims of violence, neglect and abandonment. Disappearing in plain sight, all we may ever know of these women is the little they left behind and with Blink. I’m trying to provide them with a legacy, recognise their lives and raise awareness of issues including gender based violence and the status of women in society.”
During her months of research, Sarah waded through hundreds of files and images of unidentified women who had died in American cities, from 1950 to the present day. The starkness of these photographs and the realities they represented inspired Blink. and her accompanying blog, www.janedoe.ie.
“I’ve painted since I was a child but I never considered myself to be an artist. I first became interested in the topic when I had to take some time off college when I became unwell. I had some time on my hands and I ended up painting a portrait of a woman on death row in the US. And that got me thinking about Jane Doe’s. I came across a database with over 2,000 people on it. It’s hard to remember my initial feeling towards them now because, after months of looking at the images, I’ve become desensitised. But it was quite upsetting, almost a guttural reaction.“I had to whittle the cases down then, leaving out cases where there were only skeletal remains or digital recreations. In the end, I would have picked cases because the case file was interesting or because it was a good picture but it was a bit of a dilemma, leaving people out for various reasons.”
Sarah’s blog, originally created to promote a Fund-It campaign for the project, became a real-time log of Blink.’s creative process and, ultimately, an integral strand of BLINK.. It’s attracted interest and responses from around the world, including a passionate commentary from BAFTA nominated film-maker and writer and director of Dreams of a Life Carol Morley.
“The blog came out of necessity to get funding for the campaign but the reaction to it was great. I wasn’t sure it would be, because it was all text. I couldn’t publish the pictures in advance as it’s important that people weren’t desensitised to the images before they saw the final paintings.
“I was unsure about showing them to the public so I have to acknowledge my dad (Spraoi director TV Honan) and also my brother-in-law John Grubb and his company Every Event for pushing me into it.
“Another person who gave me great support was Carol Morley. Her drama documentary Dreams of a Life, about a woman who died in her London bedsit in 2004 but whose body wasn’t discovered until 2007, had a huge impact on me and my first blog referenced it. Carol got a hold of the blog post through Twitter so a few months later, when I was looking for support, I contacted her and told her about the project. I was delighted with her response to the paintings.”
Carol wrote: “Brutal and confrontational, they are a powerful reminder of the women whose lives have gone unrecognised and seemingly forgotten. In taking the time and care to create portraits of these Jane Doe women, whose lives are often as unknowable as their names, Blink. has focused our gaze on something important, that we must face up to and think about. In a certain way, that only paintings can do, the portraits create a tender legacy for these women, often ignored in their lifetimes, and anonymous in death.”
Morley’s reference to the portraits creating “a tender legacy” is a central tenet of Blink. Yet Sarah Honan has not compromised the brutal realities surrounding the lives and deaths of these women. She acknowledges that Blink. may not make for comfortable viewing.
The 18 paintings are assembled in two blocks. While each woman is individually represented, their proximity suggests shared experiences of these and many other women of varied races, backgrounds and creeds, Sarah says.
“It’s a hard topic to talk about and some people would also find it difficult to express an interest in it. It’s definitely not like watching an episode of Law and Order. This is grim reality.”
“The room will also contain the case files of the 18 Jane Doe’s to provide further context for the viewers and some preliminary sketches to show the progress of the work. The setting I’m showing the paintings in is quite unconventional, by hanging them in the windows, but I wanted to bring these women to the public rather than the other way round. Any passer-by can inadvertently become a ‘legacy-maker’ if they so wish.”
BLINK. is on show at the building at the corner of Meetinghouse Lane and O’Connell Street until 15th March.
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