PROJECT NAME 'Our Nation's Sons'
DATES INSTALLED April 2009 to Present
LOCATION Scotland & Ireland
ISSUE ADDRESSED Mental health difficulties in young men
COMMISSIONED BY Self initiated
In my first five years of teaching I lost five of my students to suicide. Nothing can prepare you for that. As you stand at the top of the class the following day and comfort your class, you have to impart empathy and absorb the profound sense of shock. You also need to show strength as those students rely on you to walk them through this devastation. It came to the point where I felt I had walked too far and had taken this journey too many times. So I took some time out and began to focus on how this had changed me. I took my greatest talents, being able to draw and being able to develop meaningful interactions with young men & I fused them into a project that can make a difference.
This project was initiated nearly ten years ago now, when emigration, mental health well-being, youth unemployment and suicide at the door of most Irish households. The past decade has seen our society open up a little more. To date I have recruited 54 young men to help work on this project and install the large-scale drawings in every corner of Ireland. Together we have begun to resonate and disrupt the visual landscape of our villages, towns and cities. We have empowered other young men, given them a presence, a voice and a sense of belonging.
A drawing has the power to go further than words. But a 125ft drawing, as was the scale of our largest installation (seven stories), has the power to pull a passer-by from the mundane, the power to trend and the power to gain real social momentum. Together we have brought much needed debate surrounding suicide, young male mental health and unemployment to the fore. But more importantly we have without question highlighted the potential that resides within young Irish men. We have set the conversation agenda within the cities we have installed the pieces through real social action, hard work and visually beautiful works of art.
This project/social campaign has the focused and deliberate aim of re-positioning the maligned image of a segment of youth in a community. Smacking of the same sort of comfy classicism that keeps certain youth marginalised, recent trends in Ireland have begun to demonise an entire generation of youth, particularly boys, using collective guilt by association and insidiously damning methods of generalisation about their appearance and culture. I don't buy into stereotypes and the current portrayal of young men through the media is shameful. It is not my experience as a teacher. Yes I come across racism, violence, sectarianism, poverty but I also see power, god-given talent, empathy and determination on a daily basis.