Still (the) Barbarians, EVA International, Limerick

Taking its title from the poem Waiting for the Barbarians by Greek writer CP Cavafy, which depicts a declining civilisation and its rulers almost hoping for the imminent arrival of the “barbarians” who will offer a “kind of solution”, this biennial event, curated on this occasion by Koyo Kouoh, takes place alongside the commemorations of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland against British rule. The anniversary offers an opportunity for national reflection, comparison and questioning about the postcolonial condition of Ireland.

The EVA International Biennial of Contemporary Art is a 12-week programme of exhibitions and events that engages with the people and city of Limerick every two years and aims to lead and champion the production, curation, commissioning and exhibiting of contemporary art in Ireland. Since being founded in 1977, EVA International has worked with 2,104 artists and 41 curators from across the world, bringing outstanding exhibitions to audiences in the west of Ireland.

Kouoh, who was born in Cameroon and is the founder of Dakar-based art centre RAW Material Company, draws on the anniversary of the Rising to explore her interest in the parallels between Ireland’s long and complex relationship with colonialism, and her own personal experience with the legacy of colonialism in Africa. She explains: “Ireland is the first and foremost laboratory of the British colonial enterprise that was subsequently exported across the globe. Colonialism’s physicality of domination, in terms of the shaping of architecture, civic spaces and the wider landscape; is accompanied by a psychological domination through the imposition of language, social structures, religion and prejudice.” She makes clear however that this is not an exhibition that is embedded in the past. Instead, as in Cavafy’s poem, the theme of the exhibition is that the past is always present, while the future never really arrives.

A total of 57 artists are participating in the Limerick exhibition, alongside a programme of related workshops and events across Ireland. The selected artists come from around the world, with a notable representation of Irish and African artists among them, and they include Criodhna Costello, Jonathan Cummins, Tom Flanagan and Megs Morley, Carsten Höller, Alfredo Jaar, Journal Rappé, Abdoulaye Konaté, Alice Maher, Pádraic E. Moore, Otobong Nkanga, Alan Phelan, Tracey Rose and John Waid.

Still (the) Barbarians,  until 17 July, EVA International – Ireland’s Biennial, Limerick City Gallery of Art and other locations in Limerick.

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1. Liam Gillick, Intermodal Elevation, 2015, powder coated aluminium, plexiglas, 200 x 235.5 x 105.5 cm, courtesy the artist and the Kerlin Gallery.