What do Batman, Top Cat and domestic violence have in common? On the face of it, perhaps not much, but when viewed through the creative prism of visual artist Amanda Jane Graham, the mismatch of hardened real-world and comedic culture forms the narrative behind her latest exhibition, ‘A Domestic Abuse Panorama’.
A frank and at times disturbing autobiographical exploration of Graham’s young life, she has somehow remained a beacon of positivity, and a picture of domesticity as she busies herself around the lower floor of No. 61 College Street.
“I brought coffee,” she kindly offers upon entering the terraced house, before resting her belongings on a nearby chair.
Speaking to The Anglo-Celt, she readily admits her work has aptly “found a home”.
“The house itself fits very well with the theme of my work. They asked did I want the curtains taken down, but I said no. I think it fits very well.”
The numbing chill in the house too adds to the discomfort, literal or figurative, with Graham using the three month residency to pilot her ethnographically informed research in pursuing for a PhD.
A recipient of a Bullock Lane Residency Award, Amanda Jane’s looking to explore the role of the local arts centre in the community, not only as a focal point for creativity, but a space for personal development and introspection.
Why then focus on a subject so bleak, so vexing, and nowadays so socially repugnant?
“Because [domestic abuse is] everywhere,” states Graham simply, “in one way or another.
“It’s still going on. It doesn’t have to be physical, it can be psychological and that can be worse. Either people have experienced [abuse] in their own lives, or maybe they know someone who has.
“This is about my own story. My work often comes from family, from family stories. I’ve done work about growing up in Drogheda, and I suppose this is an extension of that once again.”
Graham is determined to force a rethink of what constitutes domestic abuse. Her work, she hopes, will acknowledgement the courage of individuals who live with abuse, those who have survived, as well as the men and women who steadfastly remain undefined by their often shocking experiences.
Graham’s skilful pencilled work documents what are emotive, dramatic and traumatic visions, a voyeuristic memoir offering a personal narrative to an often behind-closed-doors world.
“[My father] was very much the dominant figure, but he was really very manipulative about it too: a street angel but house devil. What you seen at home wasn’t the person others saw. But it was a matriarchal household. Even though there was atmosphere and tension, it was to her.”
‘Out of Body Experience’ seizes upon that notion. Featuring the iconic railway bridge, hospital, black-flags by doorways in support of the hunger strikers in the North during her formative years, betwixt it all is an ethereal first person perspective from inside the family home. A father’s fist scuttles a young Graham into the corner against a wall. ‘POW’ a la the comic campishness of Adam West’s Batman, a grinning Top Cat also adds garish colour to an otherwise complete black and white scene, while the artist’s little brother hides for safety behind the curtains.
In the window, Batman looks on at a Bat Signal, a connection Graham says to her mother, who worked at the hospital, but when home was there to protect her kids whenever possible. “[Drogheda is] a great town for landmarks. The cartoons are those I would have grown up with,” Graham says, accepting that television provided a degree of escapism from those macabre surroundings.
“I watched it intensely, and two foot from the screen. I loved comic books too, Dandy, Beano, Whizzer and Chips. My brother was younger and I use to read these to him, all the ‘Bang’, ‘Biff’, ‘Thud’, ‘Wallop’.”
Comedy is a huge part of Graham’s work, and she directly references a sketch by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly about his own childhood an experiences growing up.
“Billy uses humour to deal with conversations that people otherwise don’t want to have. He’s very clever, he’s funny but crucially raises awareness about these issues.”
Other elements of the exhibition include part of a triptych titled ‘Family Photo’- a toilet with a corduroy hat similar to that worn by her father; and another pencilled image called ‘The Parents’- a wedding photo completed with bulging biceps and deltoids. ‘Hen’ meanwhile accounts for her teenage years, dealing with identity through language, body image, religion.
In Graham’s case, the Drogheda-native has made peace with the maltreatment meted out by her father.
“I started this work two-years-ago, and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of this. I find you have to deal with so much in your life that you have no control over, so [the abuse] is very resolved for me. I don’t hold any resentment.”