Note: I was an arts columnist with the Limerick Leader newspaper, publishing interviews, reviews and features for a general audience. This article was originally published on 14/04/2016.

HAVING started life in January of 1977, Eva International is now Ireland’s largest biennial of art. It’s a large scale exhibition, taking place across Limerick city, with a significant international outlook.

The Biennial coincides this year with the 1916 centenary, so there’s added pressure on Eva to incorporate big questions about contemporary life, embedded in history, with a vision for how art and culture can play a vital role in society.

The curator for Eva International is Koyo Kouoh, and her curatorial concept Still (the) Barbarians continues the legacy of Eva’s political edge. Highlighting 1916 as a key moment in Irish history, the conversation moves beyond commemorating the past and looks towards the broader concept of colonialism, and more specifically, the effects of colonialism on people and politics today.

Colonialism is a key link between our own history and that of Africa, South East Asia, and South America.

Kouoh was interviewed by Rory Prout for the Visual Artists of Ireland Newspaper. Talking about colonialism and Ireland, Kouoh remarked: “Since I’ve been traveling here – working, meeting with artists, doing research and so on – I’ve realised that the whole postcolonial discourse annoys certain people, because Ireland doesn’t really see itself as a postcolonial site.”

Speaking about what interested her specifically about Eva, she told Prout that, “In terms of Eva, what attracted me was that it takes place off the beaten track but with an international format. It began locally, which really makes Eva very special. It is an event that was initiated by artists for artists”

It’s a huge testament to Limerick that Ireland’s major biennial takes place here, and not as one may have expected, in Dublin. There have been attempts to create a biennial in Dublin, none of which have been particularly successful. On the other hand, here in Limerick, Eva grew from steady, humble origins – intended as an annual exhibition of art – and remains as of the key features of Ireland’s cultural landscape.

The idea of a biennial has grown to become much, much more than just an exhibition that happens every two years. They play a leading role in contemporary art today, requiring many professional artists to travel as frequently as they do far.

The standard for biennials today is that they are sprawling, large scale endeavours, with an international focus and a prominent curator with big ideas about contemporary culture and politics. The biennial is as much a chance to see a diversity of artists as it is to engage, reflect and discuss the ideas being put forth by the curator. The challenges of curating a biennial involve balancing all these different, sometimes competing, dimensions; the diversity of local, national and international artists, the tension between the ideas of each individual artist and the broad thematic concerns of the curator, as well as pairing the wider global cultural conversations taking place with the specifics of any given locality (and finding the money to make it all happen).

Eva runs from 16 April until 17 July. It will take place across the city in a variety of venues, from traditional art spaces and to patently not so; Limerick City Gallery of Art, Cleeve’s Condensed Milk Factory, The Hunt Museum, The Sailor’s Home; King John’s Castle and Mother Macs on High Street.

Others will play their part too, such as Ormston House which is part of the Federation, a network of independent organisations which have been invited to respond to the theme. The project at Ormston House, titled Murder Machine, is curated by Christine Eyene and opens this Saturday.

  • Chris Hayes is an Irish artist and art critic in London, with a background in technology and alternative spaces. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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