Mayo project promoted on Supporting the Arts initiative

Crown - Hair & Identity in Traveller Culture is one of 14 projects in Ireland chosen for promotion on the new RTÉ and Creative Ireland Supporting the Arts initiative.

“It's just great publicity for the project, I'm excited about it,” said artist Breda Mayock. “It's a great boost for Crown, the Traveller women and girls involved in it, and for our plans and all we want to do in the future.”

In April, Breda launched a website focusing on Traveller women in Mayo and the subject of their hair. Breda worked with Traveller women and girls in the Maple Youth Centre, Ballinrobe, and in Mayo Traveller Support Group, Castlebar, for the project.

“Hair is a powerful symbol of individuality and one which is intrinsically linked to identity, ethnicity, culture and gender. The way in which we treat our hair can tell as much about where we come from as our language or accent. In almost all societies hair is a strong form of self-expression,” the artist explaind.

“Exploring hair rituals and practises in minority cultures is particularly compelling because hair often communicates an unspoken expression of identity.

“Traveller women have a unique aesthetic expression. How they express themselves and their sense of identity through their hair is a source of intrigue. Traveller women’s hair as a subject of elaboration symbolises a unique form of creative expression and identity.

“Why this long luxurious flow in all its glory – plaits, rolls, ribbons, top knots and curls? What have the women to say about their hair, its physical appearance, its traditions, its rituals, and what it means to them?

“In October 2019 I determined to explore this subject and I got in touch with Traveller girls and women in Mayo to talk to them about hair.

“We talked, we explored, we swapped stories. We worked with photographer Orla Sloyan, setting up photo shoots with a special emphasis on capturing the unique aesthetic expression through hair. We discussed a name for our project. The title Crown came up because of the phrase 'Crowning Glory' – which is very appropriate considering many Traveller women’s relationship with their hair.”

After the website was launched in April, Breda made plans for two photographic exhibitions in the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, and the National Museum of Ireland, Country Life in Turlough Park. The exhibitions opened at the beginning of October.

Breda added: “We made two short films about the exhibitions and the participants with the award-winning filmmaker Mia Mullarkey, just before the Level 5 restrictions came in again.

“We have had the great fortune of being in touch with the writer and activist Rosaleen McDonagh, who penned two captivating pieces on the subject of hair; you can read these on crowncloseup.ie.

“I am grateful to the Traveller women and girls who have shared their stories and insight and who have given so generously of their time.

“Crown will grow and take on many subjects and forms in the future – we have already talked about new ventures. For now it is an opportunity to celebrate this unique, challenging and beautiful aspect of female Traveller culture.”

Both exhibitions, Crown Beoir and Crown Lakeen, will run until January 30 next in the Linenhall and Museum of Country Life, and they can be viewed on the Crown website, www.crowncloseup.ie. Funding has come from Creative Ireland Mayo and Healthy Ireland for the project, with support from the Mayo County Council Arts Service.

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