The Hair Skull and other works showing at Map and Territory

Hair Skull knitted artist’s hair , 23 x 23 x 25 cm Niamh Cunningham 2013 photo credit Roland Von Den Emden

This blog takes a look at my work currently showing at Geely College exhibition ‘Map and Territory’. The works are diverse but play a role in the exhibitions conversation. Here we will see the Hair Lock, The Statesman, The Sucroses and When I was 11.  

So scholarship and art must be
Fragrant with personality
      And moral feeling.
Distinction’s not an ego-trip.
Good luck helps many to the top
Yet once up there you can still slip
      And keep on falling.

Everything flows, an old Greek said.
Nothing’s secure. God’s only lead
      When you stop to think.
On your way up, show consideration
To the ones you meet on their way down.
The Latin root of condescension
      Means we all sink.

― Seamus Heaney – a speech at Fordham Uni 1982 Advice to the Young


The human being is fallible and open to vulnerabilities and strengths.

Using my own DNA as an art material reflects on these fallibilities. For example, selecting one strand just for its tensile quality which can hold the shape and occupy space. Another strand is selected for its elasticity. These qualities speak of enduring strength and resilience. 

My intention for this work relates more to the psychology of oneself, the mappings of a psychological landscape and to self awareness and transparency of thought.


The Sucroses

Samuel Beckett Bridge, sucrose on cotton, mixed media, 2018 40 x50cm Niamh Cunningham 2018



Four Courts, sucrose on cotton, mixed media, 40 x50cm Niamh Cunnngham 2018 40 x50cm copy



Water Cube, sucrose on cotton, mixed media, 40 x50cm Niamh Cunningham 2018

As part of the Sucrose Series I make a number of interventions using mixed media and sugar. Thread makes outline marks on the existing composition and also fictitious lines on the cityscape. The ink from the cotton paper has been burned and lifted away into the sugar mixture where it resettles elsewhere. The sugar very slowly moves and shifts the ink that was lifted off the surface and with time continues to shift the ink by a very slow crystalisation. There is also the frosting over of the initial landscape which becomes obscured by time and crystalisation. I feel this technique and subject matter is pertinent to the process of redrawing maps and redefining a landscape. The land which we live has always shaped us and humankind continues its struggle to reshape that land making multitudes of physical and psychological interventions to define, validate, protect and claim dominion .


The Statesman

政客, 纸上单版画 , 95 x 95 cm ,瑞莲 2016


 When I view ancient Western symbols of law and legislation I see the Roman bust as a symbol of such an ancient era. This work is called ‘Statesman’ and carries the different notions of nationhood and empire and territorial expansion.



When I Was Eleven

When I Was Eleven, fabric, felt ,thread, 50 x 78cm Niamh Cunningham 2016 



I had orignally planned to include this artwork but due to circumstances I was unable, the subject of the artwork is relevant so I include it here.


A knowledge of history and national pride was nurtured in primary schools and as a student my Irish historical hero was a young medical student Robert Emmet.  He was protestant and part of the United Irishmen which was an unusually ‘inclusive’ Irish rebel group, it had both catholics and protestants members. Emmet’s rebellion failed and was executed but this figure had caught my imagination and admiration. 170 years later the railway bridge in my town Carlow (Southern Ireland)  had a graffiti note “Brits out Peace in” , a statement on the troubles in Northern Ireland. When my English cousin came to visit we went out for a cycle,  I took her on a detour so as to avoid seeing the writing. This work is about the awkwardness of a young child, beginning to deal of the complexities of national and historical pride and how it plays its role in a contemporary setting. 

Note : Deanta sa tSin 2016 means Made in China in the Gaelic language

Extending huge gratitude to the curatorial team RoXi, Li Xinmo and Roland von der Emden for their skill and dedication  , they have been organising guided tours for various groups making the ‘Map and Territory’ exhibition accessible on every level to all visitors. 

The exhibition will last until December 20, 2018, at the Beijing Geely College Library in Changping District, Beijing.

For an overview of all the participating artists works click here (see Map and Territory -what the artists say )


Map and Territory Exhibition at Beijing Geely College nov 2018