Beard’s Medusa at Galway Arts Festival

AS USUAL, Irish artists will get little exposure in the Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF) where Paul Fahy is the Artistic Director, and which kicks off this year on 17 July. Last year the Festival did include an exhibition by Hughie O’Donoghue albeit in some white-washed back yard building because, of course, Galway city, the soon-to-be European Capital of Culture, can still not boast a Municipal Gallery of Art.

The few visual artists chosen this year include the Tipperary photographer John Gerrard whose computer simulations are always worth seeing. But apart from that there’s only Ana Maria Pacheo, the Brazilian-born London resident whose work is characterised by images of horror and the grotesque, and the Welsh-born and Australian-based John Beard, a gifted portraitist who is obviously fascinated by Géricault’s famously tragic Raft of the Medusa.  Beard is set to create yet another version of the Medusa in Galway which ‘will evoke questions of the viewer about aspects of reality, illusion, imagination and memory’ —according to the GIAF.


Géricault’s Medusa was famous not just because of his powerful portrayal of the surviving sailors suffering in extremis on the raft but because of the political storm it created at the time. The captain of the Medusa was not just an incompetent aristocrat who beached his boat on a sandbank. He was also a coward who cut loose the Medusa’s raft from a lifeboat on which he himself was fleeing the wreck.

It’s hard to imagine a subject less relevant to 99.9% of those attending the Galway Festival two hundred years later. But Paul Fahy could make it so. Having commissioned John Beard all the way from Australia, why not put him to work on a modern allegory of the Medusa that is very relevant to sea-goers in the West of Ireland today – the plight of the crew of Helicopter Flight 116 which smashed into Blackrock Island off Blacksod Bay earlier this year.

In both cases, the disaster was primarily due to crass incompetence or worse from the top  (In Flight 116’s case by being deprived of appropriate flight maps, and by the Air Corp’s failure to provide air cover in the first place). We can still only imagine how, and for how long, the 116 crew, like the Medusa men, suffered in the cruel sea. Géricault is said to have done immense research for his masterpiece completed in 1819. Would Beard be up to creating a modern allegory that might actually be relevant to Galway in 2017?  JM


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