The first Wild Ones Salon was held on 12th June 2021.
The Wild One Salon is a relaxed conversational space for women & non-binary people of all backgrounds.
The Theme: I Choose to Challenge
We had Leanne McDonagh join as a special guest. In this podcast you will hear Leanne's talk at the Wild Ones Salon.
Leanne McDonagh is a young Irish Traveller woman and professional visual artist. She began practicing art at Crawford College of Art & Design in 2007, graduating five years later with an Honours Degree in Fine Art, as well as a Higher Diploma in Art & Design Education.
Leanne explains, "I choose to challenge a society that puts me in a box and makes assumptions about who I am and who I should be, I challenge this daily."
As a visual artist Leanne feels she has a unique opportunity to represent and record her community from within. Through visual art that she has grown in self-awareness, and chosen to define herself rather than be defined by anyone else. Her work is an expression of herself, and is vastly influenced by her childhood memories and personal experiences, which are ultimately those of an Irish Traveller.
For Leanne, art is a vehicle for self-expression and it is a type of communication that can surpass cultural boundaries and divides.
Wild Ones Salon is an initiative by Good Day Cork & Think Speak Do Community Engagement with support from the Department of Rural and Community Development and Cork City LCDC.
#Women #NonBinary #CorkLike #ChangeTheNarrative #GoodDayCork
[00:00:00] When I put people back in their box and say, actually, you're speaking to a traveler, but you're telling me, this is what I should look like. This is what I should speak like, and this is what I should do, but I'm none of those things.
Hello. My name is Kel and you are listening to the Wild Ones Mini Podcast Series. On June 12th, 2021 at the very first Wild One Salon, we were delighted to have guest speaker Leanne McDonagh with us to talk about how she chooses to challenge prejudices immigrants, Irish travellers, as well as the power of art.
Here is what she had to say. When I get to meet people sometimes at the point I am now, um, a lot of people seem to know who I am in Cork, um, which I don't know is a good thing or a bad thing, um, at some times, but I suppose for those people that don't know me and they'll want to get to know me, um, I think the biggest thing for them to realise is the fact that I am a member [00:01:00] of the traveling community.
And a lot of the time when I meet new people and they're like, oh, I didn't, I didn't know that. Or didn't know anything about the traveling community. Sometimes the people I speak to know actually very little, um, I attended, um, Uh, summer school in 2019, um, it was an amazing summer school. Some of you might know us, um, with Create Ireland and the group of people that were present, or just fantastic, similar to this very diverse, very individual people, very strong minded, open minded.
Um, and we had an amazing week, um, That's one of the reasons why I love actually coming to Speak Think Do events because they're very, very similar to that type of week that we had. But I suppose by the end of the week, I was absolutely exhausted because people had asked me so many personal questions that I was literally drained.
Um, but in a good way, because I knew I was making friendships and connections with all these new enemies in people. And I knew their questions were coming from a really good place. Um, and I always see that as being a very good thing. Um,
[00:02:00] So, I suppose it's really strange to me to just kind of come here and just start talking about this is me, but I suppose this is what I'm about to do.
Um, as a young girl, um, I remember being in school and I had a very, very positive experience of school. Um, and when I was about 16 so Leaving Cert year. And I was considering, am I going to progress with college or not? I can remember feeling very conscious about who I was and where I came from and the position I held within wider Irish society.
And I was quite aware of how travelers were viewed in general. Um, and at that point in time, there was no kind of, um, expectation of me from my family to progress with my education, because traditionally it wasn't something that we would have done. Um, and quite often when I say that, I need to point out, um, the reason that might be so, and now it's not the complete reason.
But the reason behind that is very, very complex. Um, my parents and a lot of parents that I know of in and around cork city here.
[00:03:00] So I interviewed a number of parents a couple of years ago about their experience of the Irish education system in Ireland. And I'm talking about 50 year olds, um, 50 plus 55.
Their experience is we're talking 20 well, not 20, 30, 40 years ago. So it's not that long ago. And their experience with the education system is absolutely horrendous diabolical being separated in a classroom, being separated in a school yard, being washed down at the school yard before they were allowed to enter, um, being beaten, being bullied by both staff and students.
Um, so when I explain that to a lot of people that sometimes it's not an expectation. For their kids to go to school, that's their experience of system. So what, they're not going to push to keep their kids in it. If their kids are rebelling against it also. And quite often, kids actually do rebel against the system.
So a lot of 'em traveller kids unfortunately would leave in second level. I think we have, I could be
[00:04:00] wrong and I should have checked this beforehand, but don't quote me on it. I think it might be 14% of kids. Complete Leaving Cert, um, which then is obviously indicative of the fact that 1% progress to Third Level.
Um, so then back to me being 15, 16 year old, this was where I was at. This is where my Headspace was, but at the same time I knew I was the type of person. Didn't like to be idle, um, quite rebellious as a young girl, quite wild, um, quite outspoken, quite stubborn, um, but also quite determined. And I suppose when my teachers kind of spoke to me and to my potential and said, I had a passion and an ability within the art room to not waste it, that really stayed with me.
And I wondered about what were the possibilities, that were out there waiting for me. And I began to think about it. And I ended up going to Crawford College for Art and Design with the initial intention of going for one week to see what it was
[00:05:00] like. Um, and I told people and my teachers, I'm just going to try it out.
Um, but thankfully it was amazing. It was absolutely one of the best experiences I've ever had. And if, if you've never experienced Art college or an Art course, I'm a hundred percent behind it. Anything creative is only good for your soul, get out there, put your hand in something and go for it. Um, because I never looked back that that week turned into a year, ended up being three years and I could have left, but I continued to do a fourth.
And then after the fourth I decided to do a fifth year and I ended up becoming a teacher. Um, and I suppose during and my time in college, I began working for a lady. Within the college within the access office in the college. And what she had asked me to do was go back into secondary schools and speak to other young traveller girls and boys, and try and sow some seeds for them and try and get them to open up their eyes, to the potential of continuing with their education.
And from that. It kind of went from there and
[00:06:00] I really saw the value in education and the value of kind of spreading that to others and saying, if you want it, it's there, it's out there for you. Um, but I suppose a lot of these kids would have lots of barriers, um, in comparison to the fact that I didn't, I had a very, very positive experience in school and all my teachers were always very encouraging, which is why my journey today has been so successful.
But I suppose by working as a teacher and being back in a lot of schools, I worked in lots of schools in Cork, city and county and across Ireland in one given year. I, I, I think I hit a record of six, 16 schools in a year. Um, so I've been in staff rooms and I’ve seen what it's like for traveler students, as I said, start not everybody knew who I was.
Unfortunately. Now all the schools know who I am. So I've been able to sit in staff rooms and people not realise that I'm a traveler and I've had conversations that I've had to shut down, um, because they weren't so nice or so positive. Um, I've had confrontations between
[00:07:00] teachers about travellers since.
Without them realizing who I was. Um, so I've seen how bad it can be for people who might be different. Um, and it just doesn't sit well with me. So the work that I currently do now, um, with MTU, um, is about creating different projects and initiatives, specifically targeting, um, younger members of the traveling community and second level and helping them to progress and transition into thirdlevel. Um, and that's the education side of things I do, I suppose. Other than that, um, I do create my own artwork and in the early days I was kind of very conscious. That I didn't want to be seen just solely as the traveler artist. Um, just in the same way that we wouldn't describe. Let's just say somebody who might be black, the black artist or somebody that might be gay, the gay artist and so on, whatever.
Um, so I was really conscious about that. And I suppose the work that I did create from the very beginning, it was always about me and my experiences of who I was, and that just ultimately
[00:08:00] happened to be a traveller. Um, but I suppose. One body of work, where I was really conscious about the fact that this had to be about a traveller issue was, um, my second solo body or my second solo exhibition.
And that body of work was titled Accommodate versus Simulate. And that came after the tragedy of Carrickmines. And for those of you that might not know what that is. Um, character minds is the place in Dublin where, um, 10 members of one family lost their lives due to. Um, it was a temporary accommodation.
They weren't supposed to be there, but they're actually living there for a number of years. Um, and it was being overseen by the Council, but yes, there was no running water onsite. So during the time of that fire, there was no water to even attempt to put it out. Um, but that's one thing. What happened after that is what really pissed me off.
And when those families went to be buried, um, back to their local hometown, The town's shut down. Absolutely shut down. Nobody was welcome in those towns. Um, so that inspired me to create a
[00:09:00] body of work around accommodation and the wider issues around accommodation within the community, because unfortunately, a lot of people from outside of the community don't actually understand that there is a separate budget for travel accommodation here in Ireland.
There's reasons for that. And it's written into law. Um, and for those that are willing to actually seek out why. It’s written into law. Um, so I done that in the hope that I'd raised some more awareness, but unfortunately I don't think much has changed in the last number of years that exhibition went down in 2017.
Not much has changed at all. Um, accommodation budgets. So there let's say for example, um, and this is old information. So in 2017, 70% of the budget went un-spent not even drawn down. Um, in the previous year to my research, um, something like €400,000 wasn't even drawn down. When we all know if you're from Cork, there's a site here in cork.
That's absolutely overcrowded. And the people within that are
[00:10:00] crying out for help and support wait years. But yet they're just being shut down at every, every, every obstacle has been put in front of them. I have been in to that cycle. You would not want to live there. You would not want to live there traveller and old traveller.
You just would not want to live there. Um, so yeah, that's older than that then I suppose I, I do make artwork. That was the first one that was really kind of a political statement. Yeah. Other body of works are really themes that do kind of string true, um, the wider traditional community, but any themes that I do touch on, I see it as a wider universal theme, because I personally think no matter who we are, where we come from a rock community, we're connected to them.
All themes of universal, like at the end of the day, how many of us here on this call might be a mother or a sister or a friend? Um, like a lot of my work is about relationships and how we treat other people or how we see other people actually. And, uh, and a big thing in override into me in all of my work, um, is how the visual looks.
Um, [00:11:00] and I, I'm going to leave you with this description. So like a lot of my work doesn't actually look like the work behind me. Um, it's quite large. Um, quite abstract, quite hazy. And sometimes you can make out there's people within my work, but you can never identify anybody. And the reason I do that, um, is because I don't believe that we can make assumptions about people.
I believe that you have to ask a person question. Over and over and over again, before you get to know that person, you need to peel away at that person before you truly know who they are. So I like to present my work in a way where people have to ask questions about what's going on here. What's happening here?
Who is that? Is that a guy? Is that a girl what's going on? Are they of color? Are they not? Where they living? What type of home didn't live? Like you have to really ask questions about what's going on before you can come to any kind of a conclusion, which brings it back to the fact that I have more often than not been associated with stereotyping my entire.
Um, which I don't live up
[00:12:00] to and which I've obviously smashed so many times in so many rooms when I put people back in their box and say, actually, you're speaking to a traveller, but you're telling me, this is what I should look like. This is what I should speak. Like, and this is what I should do, but I'm none of those things.
Um, so yeah, sorry. I hope it feels like that might've been more than eight minutes. There you go.
A short time after the Salon, we asked Leanne to give her thoughts about the experience she writes, “The salon was great. Like Kel said, they had a pain in their cheeks from smiling. I was the same. I was laughing and smiling from start to finish while also gaining valuable insight into the lived experiences of others.It was both an enlightening and refreshing afternoon.”
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the wild ones. Mini podcast series. You can follow Leanne on Twitter at [00:13:00] L M C D A R T. That's all caps, L M C D A R T. You can also follow a Good Day Cork on Twitter at Good Day Underscore Cork. You can follow Thing Speak Do on Twitter at Think Speak Do One
Thank you to our sponsors, LCDC and the Department of Rural and Community Development. A huge thank you as well to Harry Menton for composing the music you've heard throughout this episode, as well as sound editing and mixing, you can find more of his work on Spotify.