- Cover Note
Northern Irish artist Alison Lowry, who provides this issue's cover images, holds a first-class honors degree in art and design from the University of Ulster and is the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including a first place in glass art at the Royal Dublin Show in 2009 and again in 2015. Lowry's current exhibition (A)Dressing Our Hidden Truths at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins's Barracks in Dublin conveys her artistic response to Ireland's history of abuse in mother-and-baby homes, Magdalen laundries, industrial and reformatory schools, and related institutions (see the exhibition website at https://www.museum.ie/Decorative-Arts-History/Exhibitions/Current-Exhibitions/(A)dressing-our-Hidden-Truths). The artist attended the November 2018 Towards Transitional Justice Conference at Boston College, from which the articles in this collection originate, and her artistic interventions underscore a commitment to addressing grievous harms, violence against women and their children, truthtelling, and accountability. Her work allows us an intimate encounter by which we can begin to more fully engage with the traumas inflicted and the voices of those who somehow survived.
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The cover image, entitled Matthew 21:13, references the biblical chapter and verse ("It is written that my house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a robbers' den.") and focuses on the Magdalen laundries. The installation comprises 10,000 paper dolls representing the number of women estimated by the state's interdepartmental committee report to have entered the laundries since Irish independence in 1922. The paper dolls are fashioned from the old £5 punt currency that featured Sister Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1831. The Sisters of Mercy ran two of the ten laundries: one in Galway and another in Dun Laoghaire. This work illustrates how women's bodies were exploited through their forced labor; the McAuley paper dolls symbolize the historical nexus of power relations between church and [End Page 7] state and, in this particular case, intimate the state's complicity in the operation of the laundries. The dolls spill out of a church-offertory bag, emphasizing how the Magdalen women were forced into unpaid compulsory labor for religious orders that were profiting from their work as well as from the public's charity. Lowry's artistic presentation peels back the layers of exploitation surrounding the Magdalen laundries just as this journal issue attempts to do through an array of disciplinary approaches to this aspect of the nation's history and its ongoing legacies.
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The back cover image, entitled Isaiah 3:24, also references the biblical chapter and verse ("Instead of the fragrance there will be stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding.") The image features Lowry's glasswork and represents the practice of punishing Magdalen women, deemed "noncompliant" and subversive of the religious rule, by shaving their heads. Cutting off their hair humiliated the Magdalen women by further diminishing their femininity and marking their bodies as having submitted to an intimate enforced punishment. The five opaque, glass scissors that hang over women's cut hair represent the instruments of violence. The opaque glass also alludes to how the state and religious orders continue to resist transparency and truth-telling about the nation's history of institutional abuse. The rosary beads from which the scissors hang juxtapose the religious discourse that dominated the women's daily lives with the sharp objects used to violate their bodily integrity and human rights. Religious conviction in this instance serves as the rationalization for the violence endured by women in the Magdalen laundries. Lowry's art strives to counteract the official opacity surrounding issues of justice for those who suffered violence in Ireland's institutions and to explore new avenues of truth-telling about the nation's past and present.
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