Traveller women from Donegal proudly launched an exhibition today, combining crafts, heritage and life experiences to create impactful art.
The ‘Pavee Beoirs Whiden… Traveller Women Talking‘ exhibit consists of six art pieces, created by groups of 18 women and 11 young girls showcasing their hopes, lived realities and struggles.
The exhibition was launched in An Grianan Theatre to mark International Human Rights Day.
Each of the intricately detailed mannequins tells a different story, ranging from identity, culture, addiction, mental health and gender equality. Bright buttons, brooches, medals, beads and paper flowers were added by the women as they gathered in groups to exchange their stories.
The project empowered women to share, learn and be heard in a safe space, said Pamela Cullotty, Donegal Travellers Project Links Worker and Drug and Alcohol Development Worker.
Pamela outlined that Traveller women in Irish society today still experience unique and persistent challenges including access to services, discrimination and under-representation politically.
“Human rights are non-negotiable,” Pamela said. “Women’s rights are human rights, Traveller rights are human rights.”
The art pieces were created over 12 weeks by the Traveller women and girls, guided by facilitators Philomena McGinlay, Margaret Joyce, Community Artist facilitator Sinead Crumlish and Maeve McIvor from DLDC.
The women took materials such as the button to symbolise Traveller heritage and culture and to symbolise the Beady Pocket – a traditional bag that held very personal meaning to women. The materials were chosen to recognise the past but to look to the future, a future of hope and inclusion for Traveller women and girls.
Michelle Mongan, who took part in the empowering project, said: “Not only did this project celebrate our differences or similarities, but created a safe space for us to reflect on our lives individually and collectively and explore our challenges, our struggles and our lived realities.
“The beauty of this project lies not just in the art we created, but in the very process of creating it as Traveller women.”
Brigidmarie Mongan, Community Health Team Leader, invites everyone to engage with the project and said: “When we first set out on this project, we had a vision that embraced the rich tapestry of our shared experience as Traveller women and girls, we aspired to give voice to our stories, our challenges, our triumphs and in doing so we sought to embed a message of equality and social inclusion. We used community arts as a tool to inform these messages, our struggles, hopes and vision for the future.”
The future vision of Margaret Joyce, Traveller Women’s Awareness Worker for South Donegal North Leitrim, is that society can celebrate every Traveller girl and teenager.
Margaret said: “I hope for a future where Traveller girls find their power and have high expectations for themselves to achieve big things and be whoever they want to be, free from judgement, fear and exclusion from society.
“I hope for a future where Traveller girls know their worth, power and strength to be what and who they want to be and still hold dearly their ethnicity and identity, to break free from stereotypes and break the status quo and find our voice.”
The Donegal Travellers Project ‘Pavee Beoirs Whiden… Traveller Women Talking’ exhibit was made possible with funding from HSE CHO1 Area Social Inclusion, North West Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, Tusla, Pavee Point, Involve Donegal and National Traveller Partnership.
Visit the exhibition, free of charge, up to Friday 15th December at An Grianan Theatre Letterkenny.