In Dublin's Art Spaces, Our Voices Are Getting Louder

Dara Quigley

Dara Quigley was a writer and activist. She died in 2017.

Social media has helped to create a more porous society, whereby, for example, I have access to academics, scientists, economists, artists — a whole world of people who society would ordinarily have insulated me from.

These connections mainly formed as I became more politically and media literate.

Andre K’por, a writer and artist who runs and has been involved with the art and performance scene around Dublin city from the tender age of 16, is another one those special connections who value ideas above ego.

Initially, he got in contact after the piece I wrote on Dublin’s underground hip-hop scene, to show what else the city has to offer. He was quick to name-check Costello as his current top-rated artist in Dublin, and recommended Mary Jane as the soundtrack for this piece.

When I met him recently, K’por offered insights into how Dublin and our cultural conversations have changed over the years, in parallel with a changing demographic, which has shifted the nature and boundaries of creative conversation.

Having arrived in Dublin at age three 12 with his family, following the breakup of former Yugoslavia, he is involved with and performs with creative groups around Europe. Just back from a tour of Berlin, Paris, and Amsterdam, he remarked that Dublin seemed more and more comfortable with its identity as a European city.

I asked him to expand. “Differences don’t matter the way they used to, people are more open to each other,” he said.

As I discussed at a recent panel on radical media in the University of Limerick, women and men like me are among the unintended results of austerity. We have started to attempt to make sense of this brave new world and are looking for collective solutions. Constantly reaching out and attempting to engage, desperate to question the established order of things.

K’por spoke of a “widening of the demographic of participants”, which has seen the number of people participating in and attending performance nights increase dramatically, with “a lot more minorities represented”. Before and during the boom, there wasn’t the “critical mass required for the scene to reach its current level of energy”, he says.

Although initially reserved on the topic of class, he opened up once I told him I thought any influx of working-class people into the arts would come because they felt compelled to communicate, and because previous self-imposed barriers like inferiority complexes and internalised messages of cultural inadequacy were being washed away.

We’re looking for solutions, and the arts, although saturated with middle-class voices, are getting an infusion of working-class blood. It isn’t something to be afraid of, but rather an exciting moment for our society.

The Fiction Disco hosted by the Bogman’s Cannon in Toners pub on a recent Friday boasted a spectrum of voices. Although I could only catch a few acts, confidence was not lacking in any of the working-class delegation.

Having spaces to be creative and make mistakes is a privileges some of us never had, and now the creative scene of spoken word in particular offers us ways of starting the conversations that we as a society so desperately need.

Says K’por: “The conversations which happen when people are free of the self-imposed virtual divisions … the conversations are more philosophical and introspective once these are removed.”

While volunteering at Exchange Dublin, an alcohol-free creative space for people of all ages that was forced to close in 2014, K’por noticed this desire for communication.

Exchange offered a creative space where “a 50-year-old solicitor and 20-year-old anarchist from Crumlin were having in-depth social discussions. Reaching through imagined social divisions driven by the most basic of human impulses: to communicate our experience,” he said.

After over a year around the established culture of resistance, I’m fairly convinced it can offer only a temporary salve to our angst and anxiety about where our society is and where we are heading.

You can sell some papers, get involved in hashtag campaigns, but it’s all transient, offering a temporary outlet to frustrations, rather than providing the time and space to begin ruminating on an an alternative philosophy to our current ideology of neoliberalism.

K’por was quick to agree that social change finds seeds in the arts. “The arts offer us a way to engage in discourse that might otherwise seem unthinkable,” he says.

Some of these unthinkable discourses may include how living under a market-based ideology and monetising social relations has affected how we view society and each other. A conversation mainstream behavioural economists like David McWilliams have begun. Post-crisis shock is wearing off and a lot of people don’t recognise the society we’ve found ourselves a part of.

Capitalism used to be able to offer us a way out of existential angst by allowing us to be whatever we wanted to be, if we could pay. When the crash came, a lot of people got a smack of a new reality. Now the implications of taking our eye off the ball and not being a responsible citizenry, the consequences of our individual and collective decisions, have become all too clear.

As a society, some time spent ruminating the implications of not taking our responsibilities as citizens seriously would be time well spent. Perhaps we should question just what it is in our “common sense” that makes treating some of our citizens as second-class morally cool as long as we’re protecting property prices.

Unfortunately I missed a recent gig at which K’por shared the stage with John Connors, from the documentary I Am Traveller, and yes, “the Traveller” from Love/Hate. He had been performing a spoken-word set on the Traveller experience and rich history, and how the manner in which wider society treats Travellers impacts upon his identity.

What Connors is doing is a perfect example of adding validity and pride to a marginalized culture. All the best art forces you to look at yourself, society and your part in it. With John Connors already delivering blistering sets, that part of our culture is sure to be honoured.

CORRECTION: This column was updated at 12.16 pm on Wednesday 27 April to correct the age at which Andre K’por arrived in Ireland. Apologies for the error.

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Dara Quigley: Dara Quigley was a writer and activist. She died in 2017.

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