When Anca Danila first came to Ireland, she “struggled a little bit with integrating”. As an artist whose work now focuses largely on the theme of identity, that struggle helped her in “connecting with my art and just pouring it out on the canvas”.
After graduating with a degree and a Master of Fine Arts qualification from the University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Danila moved to Dublin about 10 years ago.
While she regularly travels between Cluj-Napoca and Dublin, her life, family and work are to be found here. So Ireland is now home, she says.
“I wasn’t intending to stay, it was just for a while, but here I am after all this time. As an artist it’s important to move around, I think. I had an arts scholarship in Sicily in Italy for five months and I also spent some time in Spain. But the most time I’ve spent in any place other than Romania is in Ireland. And this is my home now because my family have also come here – my mother, my sister and my brother.”
Danila’s family “came here for a better life, like most stories of people who move here”, she says.
“For me, I wanted to come here to make a better living too, but it was also about exploring and meeting new people, and for my art.”
Over the years, Danila’s works have been displayed in numerous exhibitions around the world, and she recently taught workshops for Romanians at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.
“The Hugh Lane Gallery is my favourite space in Dublin city. When I walk in there it’s like walking into a church to worship. You can see traditional, modern, contemporary work. I never feel tired walking around,” she says.
“My favourite corner, the Francis Bacon studio, is amazing. He was inspired by chaos, whereas me, I try to organise things all the time. I need that tidiness and organisation. But I love seeing where and how he worked and I find that so inspiring.”
My immigration process made me more sincere and raw within my art as well, because of that struggle
From the very first time she visited the gallery, Danila “wished one day I would do some work there”.
“It was amazing, because then that came true years later with the workshops,” she says.
In Ireland, she has also curated See Through Cafe, together with sociologist Evgeny Shtorn and Mother Tongues Festival curator Francesca La Morgia. Supported by the South Dublin County Council Arts Office, the goal of See Through Cafe was to “bring together people who have an interest in creativity and cultural diversity”.
It’s a project and a time in her life that Danila remembers very fondly, especially considering the struggle to build connections she had in Ireland after she first arrived.
“As an artist you need to be surrounded by artists, and that was a struggle for me when I arrived because I was trying to build a network and connections. My immigration process made me more sincere and raw within my art as well, because of that struggle. But I did build a network here, little by little. The moment you begin to do things you love, good things come to you,” she says.
Danila began teaching art classes in Dublin 8 shortly after arriving, which she credits with helping her to make many of her friendships and professional connections.
“I built a community there. I taught adults and children and people from all over the world, who came from different cultures and who speak different languages: French, Spanish, Romanian, German, Slovak and many more. Some of them stayed with me for years and some of them started pursuing art careers, or they are in NCAD now studying arts full-time. We keep in touch. So looking back, it’s clear to me I’ve built strong connections here.”
During the pandemic the school moved online, and after restrictions ended it was time to move on to a new space within the city.
“Now I have a new studio in Dublin 1. It’s amazing, but it’s on a different side of the city, so you have to rebuild a little bit, and many people have left because they went to their home countries or somewhere else when the pandemic started,” Danila says.
There is a great artistic culture in Ireland. My family doesn’t have an artistic side, really. So I don’t know where it came from with me
She lost “about 50 per cent” of her old students and connections after people moved during the Covid-19 crisis, she adds.
“What’s difficult is [that] Dublin is very expensive, and for many of my students that’s what made them leave Ireland, especially during the pandemic,” she says.
“I’m lucky and blessed I’ve found a good place to live and a good studio nearby which isn’t too expensive, so I can stay. But it’s not easy, especially as an artist. It’s quite hard. Ireland loses talent to the price of being here – Irish talent and foreign too.
“I’ve built so many friendships here and friendships have no borders, but it is sad when they move away because they can’t afford it here. Few artists can really make Ireland their home.”
Having family in Ireland is another reason for Danila to remain in the country, but she also feels Ireland has “strength” in its artistic past and present.
“There is a great artistic culture in Ireland. My family doesn’t have an artistic side, really. So I don’t know where it came from with me. Maybe I’m some kind of prodigy,” she jokes.
“Irish and Romanian people are also similar,” Danila says.
For me, to be able to help people to express themselves and connect with other people through art is amazing
“There are differences in Romanian and Irish culture, but I don’t like to look at those. In my work and in my life I prefer to look at the similarities, because otherwise we grow apart from one another. One of the big things is how open and friendly and talkative both Romanian and Irish people are.
“As an artist when I arrived here, I also thought of the visual similarities – like how low the sky and buildings are. I was looking at the architecture and trying to notice similarities.”
In the past few months, being able to return to galleries and gigs has kept Danila going, she continues.
“Just being able to step inside a gallery again or hear live music at a concert. It’s amazing because arts are what makes life ‘living’. We are all living this fast life all the time – it’s important to take time for the things we love.”
This year, she has also begun doing workshops for refugee and migrant children.
“I’ve taught a lot of Ukrainians recently and I have to say they’ve been so talented. For me, to be able to help people to express themselves and connect with other people through art is amazing. Especially when they’re moving to a new place and they don’t speak the language – because I understand that experience,” she says.
“But art has no language. It allows you to connect in a different way, a stronger way”.