A Cork town seen through the eyes of Ukrainians in new photographic exhibition

Kinsale Arts Weekend runs from July 7. Among the exhibitions is ‘Through Ukrainian Eyes’ - featuring photos taken by refugees who have recently arrived to the town, writes JENNIFER HORGAN
A Cork town seen through the eyes of Ukrainians in new photographic exhibition

One of the photographs which feature in Through Ukranian Eyes, as part of Kinsale Arts Festival.

THE inspiration for the upcoming photography exhibition Through Ukrainian Eyes came easily to Jimeve O’Neill.

O’Neill works as development officer with The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) administered by the West Cork Development Partnership.

In recent months, SICAP have been the first point of contact for Ukrainians arriving in West Cork. Part of their work is to connect with local groups to encourage integration and inclusion.

When Kinsale Arts Festival got in touch, looking to collaborate, O’Neill had the perfect material at her fingertips, or rather, on her phone.

“I got to know the two groups who arrived in Kinsale from Ukraine very well. The SICAP team worked to ensure they supported individuals to obtain their basic needs such as clothes, food, and medicine, and did this with fantastic support from the local community.

“But there are emotional needs too. As our relationships strengthened, they’d often send me photographs, recording their first impressions of Ireland, chronicling the ways in which locals were welcoming them. I knew I had the perfect material for an exhibition.”

This upcoming collaboration between SICAP and the Kinsale Arts Festival is ideal, as the festival also seeks to promote a culture of inclusivity, encouraging diverse art forms and audiences. The line-up is rich.

A lovely coloured streetscape, which features in the exhibition 'Ukranian Eyes, as part of Kinsale Arts Festival'.
A lovely coloured streetscape, which features in the exhibition 'Ukranian Eyes, as part of Kinsale Arts Festival'.

Speaking about this year’s programme, Chairperson Anna Mulcahy says: “We are thrilled to be back this year, and to welcome new audiences with a programme that has so much to choose from, whether you are a fan of visual arts, theatre, poetry, song, dance, literature, photography, comedy or spoken word, you will find something for you.

“Kinsale is a thriving town because of our welcome and openness, this festival mirrors that with local, national, and international acts, many of whom call Kinsale home, or home for now.”

THE PHOTOGRAPHS

The exhibition, Through Ukrainian Eyes, showcases that warm welcome first hand.

Compiled by O’Neill, it provides Kinsale with a unique opportunity. It invites their newly arrived neighbours to share their first impressions of the West Cork town.

“The exhibition is about landing and arriving, depicted through these simple photographs. It demonstrates there’s no need for language. Through simple images we can access our shared humanity,” explains O’Neill.

“Some photographs are like ones anyone would take on a holiday, scenes from a window or an image of the car park at the hotel where they’re staying, but they also tell a story. For instance, this car park is where local people came with bicycles and toys and clothes in the early days. So many people came to offer the Ukrainian arrivals what they might need. So, there’s a deeper significance to it all.”

One of Kinsale's murals also features in the exhibition, as taken by a Ukrainian person now living in Kinsale.
One of Kinsale's murals also features in the exhibition, as taken by a Ukrainian person now living in Kinsale.

Mostly, the photographs strike a happy note.

“Some people took pictures of the ocean because they’d never seen it before. One person captured the tide going out, another phenomenon they’d never experienced.”

O’Neill informs me that some have taken these pictures to send home to loved ones, still in Ukraine.

“It’s their way of saying I’ve landed, I’ve arrived, and this is where I am. So again, the focus is not on the war, but it is there in the background – it is part of the narrative.”

A GIVING TOWN

The photographs (I got to see a small selection in advance) vividly capture the generosity of local people.

One snap is of a cultural history tour offered by local group Cairdeas.

“Many in the newly arrived group have a keen interest in history and really appreciated the time locals took to explain their culture and the fascinating history of the town. The Ukrainian group are so grateful for everything local people have done to help them,” O’Neill says.

“The Kinsale community has been amazingly welcoming. Some pictures were taken from the two free Kinsale Harbour Cruises the groups were given.

“They have been offered language tuition three times a week, yoga, table tennis and bridge classes, all given by volunteers. They are hugely grateful, and keen to give back.”

Reportedly, they want to organise a thank you party. By the sounds of it, these photographs seem thank you enough, reminding locals just how lucky they are to live in a peaceful, beautiful place like Kinsale. An offering of perspective to us all. A beautiful mirroring of the world around us. A point of connection.

Beautiful bursts of colour on the hillside, a picture of gorse, also features in the exhibition.
Beautiful bursts of colour on the hillside, a picture of gorse, also features in the exhibition.

The exhibition is called Through Ukrainian Eyes but offers Irish people images of Ireland through fresh eyes too. The collection inadvertently urges Kinsale residents, and all of us, to stop and take notice. To notice what might be taken for granted in our busy Cork lives.

In the few images O’Neill shares with me before the opening, cameras zoom in on small, striking details. They feel almost meditative. Clusters of gorse demand our attention. Murals on walls are celebrated, as are fishing boats, brightly painted houses, and summer blooms. There is great happiness in the shots, despite the turmoil the new arrivals have undoubtedly suffered.

A POSITIVE STEP

This positivity is perhaps a result of the town’s work in welcoming the group. That welcome is not set to lessen any time soon if O’Neill’s commitment is anything to go by.

“There are 109 people in the hotel and another 24 in the town. Some others are housed privately,” O’Neill says.

“We do our very best to incorporate them all and it has been a significant amount of work with so many different groups coming together and lending a hand.

“We now have 30 children enrolled in four local schools. When we put those children on the bus, it felt like we were saying goodbye to our own children. That was a special day for us all.”

O’Neill mentions that there are also some shots taken in Ukraine before they left, but that these will have to be treated delicately.

“We really want to give an insight into who they are, into their story, their journey. The photographs will hopefully invite further conversations between old and new residents, extending that integration and inclusion piece.

“Each photograph will be enlarged and framed. We will add a line or two to tell the story of the photograph also – why it might be significant, why it was taken.”

Ukrainian artist Vasily Orishack at work.
Ukrainian artist Vasily Orishack at work.

A WALKING GALLERY TRAIL

The festival will also celebrate the work of one particular member of the group – painter Vasily Orishack. The 65-year-old from Odessa will exhibit his paintings at Barrett’s Travel as part of the festival’s Walking Gallery Trail.

A crane driver by trade, Orishack started painting in his twenties and is self-taught. He is exhibiting work completed since he arrived, ranging from captivating portraits to stunning landscapes of the Kinsale coast.

A painting by Vasily Orishack.
A painting by Vasily Orishack.

Since arriving, he has been lifting the spirits of everyone by sharing his beautiful work, painting every day outside Dino’s at the centre of the lively maritime hotspot.

“It has been beautiful to see his paintings every day, to see something really beautiful coming from something so difficult,” O’Neill enthuses.

“He has amazed and delighted people with his talent. He has very little English, but the expression is there absolutely. The paintings are a conversation in themselves. He even offered to do a portrait of me, but I told him I was okay!” she adds.

The festival runs from July 7 to 10.

For the full programme see https://www.kinsaleartsweekend.com

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