The Monthly speaks to artist Fiona Ní Mhaoilir about “The Way It Is” project

How did you get involved with “The Way It Is” Project?

Tracey McVerry, who works for Community Arts Partnership, contacted me, and let me know that she had nominated me as someone who might be interested in this kind of project. I was informed that I would be matched up with a poet to collaborate on producing material which connected our thoughts on the pandemic.

Had you met the poet, Raquel McKee, before?

I was paired with Raquel McKee. We weren’t aware of each other; we did not know each other’s work and so the first part of the journey was learning about each other both personally and artistically. We discussed how we might connect our two disciplines, I specialised in painting, Fine Art, although I am now a multi-disciplinary artist.

At one point I was on a bus to Dublin and Raquel performed her poem over the phone to me. And it was brilliant to listen to, it was very lyrical, and it struck me how much energy she was generating through her words. It did make me wonder how she felt about seeing her words on a page rather than hearing the words through her performance.

What had you been working on before this project?

I had been working on a film project, and much like “The Way It Is” project, it was looking at ideas about life through Covid. A lot of people I know had moved their lives online, but I had actually become more connected to nature, and I increased my cycling alongside the Lagan River., which is near where I live. That was the kind of activity I was taking part in. I wasn’t really interested in doing exercises with Joe Wicks or meeting up on Zoom, obviously I had necessary meetings online, but I was drawn much closer to nature.

How did your work progress with Raquel?

Raquel had material which was connected to Black Lives Matter, and Domestic Violence, and was quite issue based and that meant that I had to think through how I would respond and contribute to the project. One of the things we were advised to do was to think about areas where we connected rather than just me illustrating the poems or Raquel writing to my work. Themes of power, resistance and persistence were the core themes in our work through which we were connecting.

I wouldn’t have felt comfortable making imagery to comment on Black Lives Matter directly, but I found areas where I could respond and think through those ideas using visual metaphor. For example, I record my travels around the Lagan, collecting plants from the meadows, ditches, and the hedges. The persistence of plants in terms of their ability to find places to exist and grow is reflected in my response to the project.

Did you feed off each other’s work?

Yes, we had phone conversations where we discussed the theme of power dynamics within a personal and public realm. I sent Raquel images and she sent me her poems and on occasion read her poems to me which I enjoyed listening to.

Our conversations resulted in a fruitful cross-pollination of words and images. Some examples include Raquel’s poem called Cyanotype which is print process I use to make some of my work. In response to Raquel’s Haiku about George Floyd I used a helicopter seed pods from a sycamore tree suggesting control, surveillance, and growth.

Is the project finished now?

Yes. I really enjoyed the process.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.