Gay Cork men express themselves through art

A new arts project being launched in Cork today allows gay people free rein to explore and reflect on their lives, says SINEAD McCARTHY
Gay Cork men express themselves through art

Silvio Severino, self portrait photo

THE experiences of older, marginalised gay men from Cork are being shared in a participatory arts project being launched today.

Entitled Before The Rainbow... And After, it includes a book of photography, collage images and poetic text, and a film piece exploring and reflecting on the issues.

The launch even takes place at a special invite-only event on August 29. The art publication and visual poem, along with a song penned and put to music by two of the project participants, will be accessible online on the Gay Project website and social media pages Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter from August 30.

Before The Rainbow... And After is produced in association with Cork Gay Project, in collaboration with high profile UK artist and facilitator, Mark Storor, Creative Producer Claire Ryan, filmographer Cathal MacGabhann (band member of The Altered Hours) and photographer, Carolyn Collier, in a process of shared conversation, exchange, action and dreaming.

Through the arts process, people of different ages, nationalities and ethnicities have participated in the creation of beautiful pieces of artwork, through the telling of stories that have been unheard, that have been forgotten, that need to be re-remembered, and that are yet to happen and make their way into the public realm.

The project saw 10 older GBTQI+ people working with arts facilitator Mark Storor over the course of the last nine weeks, taking part in practical, participatory workshops where they developed a creative language together, to tell their stories.

The outcome is a beautiful publication and film piece reflecting the men’s stories and experiences through a variety of artistic mediums - collage, photography, costume design, film.

The participants have all been extremely generous with their time and open and honest about their experiences. Three of the Cork participants spoke about their roles in the project.

Will Kennedy, pictured on a day out in Kinsale
Will Kennedy, pictured on a day out in Kinsale

Will Kennedy, 65, lives in and is from Cork city. He has been living with HIV since 2007 and has been a gay rights activist since 1994, since he got sober.

He joined the army in 1988 when it was still illegal to be gay in the forces. When this changed in 1999, he threw open the door of his closet.

From 1999 to 2011, Will was, as far as he knows, the only open and out queer man in Collins Barracks in Cork. 

He left the army in 2011 due to a cancer diagnosis and promised himself he would go to college and get a degree if he beat it. He was happy and proud to say he received his BA degree in Contemporary World Religions and Philosophy from UCC for his 60th birthday in 2017.

Will now works for a nationwide LGBT helpline. He says he’s been in therapy all his life but this project opened up and “brought some stuff to the surface” that he didn’t even know was there or existed.

He describes himself as an ‘Aphrodite rising’ or as a ‘phoenix rising’ from the ashes. This was a theme he identified through the project’s arts process, which he developed within the group with Mark Storor’s support, resulting in some beautiful, expressive artworks and photography.

He says he has lived the full gamut of experiences as a gay man in Ireland and seen society change dramatically. 

The project has particular significance for him as an older gay man, looking ahead to next year, which marks the 30th anniversary of decriminalisaion of homosexuality in Ireland.

Will says one of the striking things, however, is that some of the issues and problems he encountered throughout his lifetime - such as issues around body image within the queer community - still exist for younger gay men today. His wish for the future is that the helpline he works for is no longer needed.

Cork man Silvio Severino’s self-portrait collage.
Cork man Silvio Severino’s self-portrait collage.

Silvio Severino, 59, originally from Brazil now living in Cork, is an established contemporary photographer, collage and gif artist.

He took part in Before the Rainbow and After as a participant and contributed work to the project, creating a series of portrait collages of participating men, which feature in the art publication.

A selection of his work also featured in a specially curated (online) Saatchi Art Gallery during Pride month in June, 2022, and almost 200 of his works are currently available on sale in the online Saatchi Art shop.

Silvio regularly attends Cork Gay Project and says he has had positive experiences in Ireland, where he has lived with his partner for the last five years.

He says that growing up as a young gay man in southern Brazil was quite traumatic, due to the conservative, machismo society in which he was raised.

He was bullied all his life but lived openly as a gay man in Brazil before moving to Europe 22 years ago to have a different life and career opportunities.

David McCarthy, who was involved in the 'Before the Rainbow and After' arts project in Cork.
David McCarthy, who was involved in the 'Before the Rainbow and After' arts project in Cork.

David McCarthy, 61, from Togher in Cork, is a retired An Post worker who has been actively involved with the gay community in Cork since the 1980s.

His family knew he was gay but it’s not something they talked about and he was not openly gay outside of the queer community or his workplace until he took part in this project. 

He describes the project as “brilliant” and says it is the best thing he has ever done. 

“I thought I’d be hiding everything for the rest of my life, but now I’m not afraid to express myself,” he said.

David (left) admits that he found the art facilitation process “a bit strange at first” but says Mark, the facilitator, “was brilliant, he put everyone at ease. It was like being part of a real happy family where everyone was open and honest and talked at ease.”

David adds: “It was like being reborn. I’ve opened up to the world now and I feel very happy in myself. I’m wide open. I am in flames!”

During the arts process, David drew an image of a rocket, which was incorporated into a portrait collage created by artist and fellow Cork project participant, Silvio Severino.

“I drew a rocket and everyone said I was going to space! The collage brought all my worlds together and I wrote my story in a song that’s been put to music. The whole project was fantastic,” he said.

To view the artwork see  https://gayproject.ie/special-projects/beforetherainbowandafter/

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