Culture: ‘Somebody’ and ‘Siam’

It would drive you to baby-Cham.

Thankfully I had participated in some culture before the announcement to quell my frustration.

Recently I have taken to listening to Radio 1 – which in Ireland is the station for grown-ups. Ryan Tubridy addressed the nation at 9am each day for an hour. On Monday he spoke about his attendance at the ‘100 years of women in Irish politics’ exhibition currently on display at the Coach House Gallery in Dublin Castle. At 4pm I logged on to the ‘Identifying Unconscious Bias’ workshop organised by work; put my microphone on mute; and went out to see the exhibition. Multi-tasking is one of my strong points.

Upon arrival  at the Castle in the muggy heat, I discovered that the exhibit is only open from Wednesday to Sunday. Luckily the Chester Beatty Library nearby was open. Chester Beatty was an American mining magnate; philanthropist and one the world’s foremost precious book collectors. He bequeathed his precious collection to the nation of Ireland upon his death which is now on display in Dublin Castle. The collection comprising of ancient Arabic; Chinese and Japanese texts is on permanent display. Having seen this several times, I passed it by. Instead I wanted to see ‘Siam – through the lens of John Thomson 1865-66’

Born in Scotland in 1837, Thomson travelled to Asia in 1862. Over the next ten years he travelled across the continent, spending almost a year in the kingdom of Siam (modern Thailand), where he was granted access to the court of King Mongkut. The photographs Thomson took in Siam include portraits of the royals, palace scenes, religious ceremonies, architecture and cityscapes.

On his return to Britain in 1872, Thomson brought with him more than 600 glass plate negatives. Obviously the very idea of royalty is abhorrent in the present day, but this is a fascinating exhibition – as much for the beauty of the photographs taken so long ago, as well as the subjects of the pictures. Well worth seeing.

This was my second exhibition in the space of a week.

Last Saturday I attended ‘Somebody: Nuala O’Faolain and a book that changed us’. Held at the Museum of Literature Ireland and curated by June Caldwell this installation is about the 1996 memoir ‘Are you somebody?’  by journalist; writer and broadcaster Nuala O’Faolain. I read this book back in 1996. It was a frank and honest account of her life to date as an independent, career woman in an Ireland of overwhelming poverty and suppression. Written at a time when Ireland was finally escaping the shackles of its bleak catholic control (divorce was legalised that year; homosexuality had been decriminalised three years earlier) it was both shocking and fascinating. Originally conceived as a foreword to a collection of her newspaper columns it quickly became a full length memoir. I was twenty one when it was released. It was an absolute sensation of a book, highly controversial for its time for her unflinching account of her life, it nonetheless remained at number one for six months and ended up selling a million copies worldwide. I have good memories of the book. Naturally I bought another copy for perusal now that I am in my forties (the original I bought is lost to the mists of time. Sadly this new edition omits the newspaper columns of the original book – the column ‘The Gay B&B’ was particularly fascinating to me in the 1990s when I had only recently exploded out of the closet. This will be a good read.

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