A new exhibition in Brent explores the stories of the Irish diaspora


The exhibition by an artist from Brent currently on view at the Willesden Gallery explores the Irish diaspora and displacement as a psychological state.

VESSELS is descended from second-generation Irish artist Emma O’Rourke who grew up around Brent in areas like Harlesden and Queensbury and whose family hails from Portlaoise, Mayo and Cork.

The exhibition aims to shed light on the theme of displacement, what it means to belong and how we create a home.

VESSELS draws inspiration from the Brent Museum and Archives where the artist conducts ongoing research into the history of Irish immigration to London, the mental health issues encountered and the traditions and values ​​passed on without explanation.

Emma told The Irish World: “I was born in Brent and it was last year that I had a studio in Wembley Park so I came full circle and came back and started researching the Willesden Museum and Archives, researching Irish Migration in London.

“And I’ve been doing this for about a year and I’ve discovered so many things, it’s really opened my eyes, I think I’m seeing so many common themes that the generation I’m in isn’t really aware of.

“There are common themes like mental health, and then there are a lot of issues with homelessness and Irish women and things that have kind of been really suppressed, that I really wanted to dig into and address.

“I think it was 1979 when Irish women were able to get birth control, which is crazy when you think about it, it’s really not that long ago.

“And things like the PTA law when it came into effect, and how mental health rates were significantly affected by it.

“There was a very large proportion of people in Brent who were Irish, but there was still a lot of underlying stuff going on and people probably didn’t feel welcome.”

Emma O’ Rourke, VESSELS, Willesden Gallery, Willesden Library, November 29, 2022.
Photos by Amanda Rose/@amandarosephoto

The exhibition addresses questions of identity that are at the heart of Emma’s work.

“Most of my friends have an Irish parent, so I guess that’s where we really fit into all of this: not being British you don’t have an Irish accent, that’s where you you place.

“It’s a question of identity, I guess.”

Emma is a graduate of Wimbledon College of Art and holds an MA from the University of Manchester in Museum Studies.

The artist uses color to allude to a landscape of the 1980s, placing particular importance on transparency and the layering of brushstrokes. The works on display merge internal worlds to create surreal yet familiar images reminiscent of the growth of the Irish Catholic working class.

The exhibition highlights the hardships and experiences of those who left and how these experiences reverberate on younger generations.

Emma would like to continue the conversation and see where the themes might lead. I am interested in hearing from those with untold stories and in creating a supportive and inclusive environment for all who have been displaced.

“I would be really interested to hear from people who would like to connect so that we can continue the work and not let certain things be forgotten and take them with us for the next generation.

“I see the exhibition as the start of the conversation.

“I would like to continue with the themes and continue the research.”

The exhibition ends this Saturday. Opening hours are 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

People can get in touch with Emma at [email protected]

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