A tiny baby's blanket tied with ribbons, a christening gown and two identity bracelets are among images photographed by artist Marie Brett for a project on the impact of infant loss, which opens at the Galway Arts Centre early next month.
Bereaved parents and staff at three hospitals have worked with the artist on the exhibition, which is scheduled for a nationwide tour. Entitled The Amulet, it aims to shed light on an "often hidden aspect" of Irish life, according to Ms Brett, a visual arts graduate of London University Goldsmiths College based in Cork.
“When Laura died, very few people gave us gifts for her. Why would they?” Louise O’Connor (Foott), one of the bereaved participants, has written of her daughter’s death in a contribution to the exhibition’s programme. “No favourite toys lying around. No stray socks. No evidence of her movement through our lives . . .”
Ms O’Connor created an amulet or customary keepsake which Ms Brett has photographed; the artist invited parents of 10 infants to choose or locate such mementoes, and recorded audio-clips with them to match each of the images.
"To allow for this exceptionally personal and special object to be photographed and exhibited publicly, where others can view it, is a considerably brave thing," said Dr Jenny Butler of University College Cork (UCC) folklore and ethnology department.
Recalling the use of cilliní to inter babies in unmarked graves across the Irish landscape until very recently, Dr Butler said the "symbolic exclusion of these short lives from normal social conventions and rituals connected to death meant that, officially and publicly at least, it was as if they never existed at all."
Cork University maternity hospital bereavement and loss midwife Anna Maria Verling said she was honoured to support the project. "Pregnancy loss is so often unspoken of and my interaction with families who experience infant loss has had an amazing impact on my life and the lives of those around me," she said.
University Maternity Hospital Limerick and Waterford Regional Hospital also collaborated in the project, while Galway Arts Centre head of visual art, Maeve Mulrennan, who is curating it with Margaret Flannery of Galway University Hospital (GUH) Arts Trust,describes the exhibition as "honest, heartbreaking and, due to Marie's skill as an artist, a space for exploring what words cannot express".
The Amulet opens at the Galway Arts Centre on August 1st at 6pm. Contact the Galway Arts Centre on tel: 091-565886 and galwayartscentre.ie and amulets.ie