Remembering, Resisting, Reclaiming: An Exploration of the Relationship Between Counter-Memory, Visual Representation and Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries
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This research aims to explore the relationship between counter-memory, visual representations and Ireland’s Magdalene laundries. Through the exploration of three chosen visual works: Burke Brogan’s Eclipsed (1992), Steve Humphrie’s Sex in a Cold Climate (1998) and Alison Lowry’s (A)dressing Our Hidden Truths (2019), this thesis will explore the different representations of the Magdalene women and experiences, analyse the way in which each individual way engages with memory and assess if the chosen works can be considered to be sites of counter-memory which challenge the hegemonic historical narrative in which the Magdalene women have been rendered largely invisible and voiceless. The Magdalene asylums operated in Ireland from the late 18th century, with the first institution opening in Dublin in 1767 (Smith, 2007, p.25). Originally set up by religious orders with the intention to house and reform sex workers who were perceived to be “fallen” women, these asylums changed function following the turn of the 20th century. These institutions became a place where women who were deemed to be morally impure and corrupt were coercively confined, forced to rigorous and harsh free labor while being subjected to a myriad of abuses. It is estimated that between 10,000 to 30,000 thousand women passed through these institutions during their years of operation. And yet, the history of these women is seldom known. The experiences and stories of the Magdalene women have been expunged from Irish history and confined to the peripheries, shrouded in secrecy and shame. This research aims to contribute to the small, yet significant, body of work which exists about the Magdalen women, by providing further visibility about their existence and experiences and exploring how they can be included in the Irish collective memory.