Symposium and Performance of Famished

Uses of Lament: the Irish Famine & legacies of trauma

Thursday, 7 February, Symposium 14.00-18.00
Performance of Famished at 19.00-20.00, followed by a Q&A

The Stephen Lawrence Gallery
University of Greenwich
Stockwell Street
London SE10 9BD

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'The Famine reappears as a kind of displaced memory that haunts the afterlife of Irish culture, not directly but in images and tropes that form its traces.' David Lloyd, Irish Times: Temporalities of Modernity, 2008

A half-day symposium at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery will develop the idea of collective lament, examining the Famine's legacy, giving audiences a chance to experience their own cultural and political history in a fresh, innovative and healing way.

A range of writers, visual artists and theorists will explore the somatic effects of oppression and suffering to disturb new truths about history and trauma and show how they can be re-presented through diverse platforms.

The symposium will engage other immigrant communities such as the African-Caribbean community who often shared the 'No Blacks, No Irish' racism of English landlords in the 1950s and 60s. Uses of Lament will encourage inter-generational discussion about the most significant event in Anglo-Irish history and explore cross-cultural writing and arts' projects that refresh ways of telling history and challenge xenophobia. Uses of Lament will also reach out to more recent immigrants to make cross-cultural links and initiate discussion to replace fear with openness.


14.00-14.15 Welcome and Introduction by Cherry Smyth

Cherry Smyth is a poet and art writer. She has published three poetry collections and is currently touring her performance of Famished about the Irish Famine. Famished, the book-length poem, will be published by Pindrop Press later in 2019. She is a Senior Lecturer in Poetry at the University of Greenwich.

Panel 1: 14.15-15.15

Macy Todd
Macy's current work on famine compares the production of art by artists who are hungry within a healthy society and artists who are hungry as members of societies experiencing widespread food shortage. Macy looks to address in specific the way hunger serves to both individuate and collectivize.
Macy Todd is a professor of English literature, Irish studies, and psychoanalysis at Buffalo State College. His work has appeared in ELT, PLL, Breac, CNPC Quarterly, Senses of Cinema, and Umbr(a). His current book project, tentatively titled Aesthetics of Guerrilla Warfare, explores the connections between literature and revolutionary discourse from the fin de siècle to the present day.

Caroline Wright
Caroline Wright's practice is concerned with loss, the home and the object. Wright will discuss the context and ideas behind her work 'Memorial to the Islanders' (2009) which looks at the conditions for change within an Irish island community. She will explore elements that combine to form home and the undoing and loosening of critical mass.
Caroline Wright is an artist and academic, born in England to an Irish mother and British father. She is Programme Leader in Fine Art for the Open College of the Arts, part of University of Creative Arts. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and co-editor for the journal JUICE (Journal for Useful Investigations in Creative Education).

Aoife Casby
Aoife will present a creative paper - she will read from a short story, 'Famine: An Artwork', (The Stinging Fly, Winter 2017-18) and reflect on the ideas and issues that she encountered during the creation of the piece.
Aoife Casby is a writer and visual artist living and working on the west coast of Ireland and a Creative Writing PhD candidate at Goldsmith's College.

Chair: Cherry Smyth

Panel 2: 15.30-16.30

Nick Makoha
Nick will discuss his approach to writing his prize-winning poetry collection 'Kingdom of Gravity' which looks at the violent legacy of Idi Amin's reign in Uganda. It circles and encircles the tragedy through many eyes, multiple voices to build a multi-faceted and complex picture of trauma and recovery.
Nick Makoha's debut collection 'Kingdom of Gravity' was shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection and nominated by the Guardianas one of the best books of 2017. He is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow and Complete Works Alumni. He also won the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry prize. Find him at

Jay Bernard
Jay will discuss their moving and timely multimedia project 'Surge', which explores the archives surrounding the New Cross 'massacre' - a fire at a 16th birthday party in south London in 1981, which killed 13 young black people - and its personal and social impact. In a project driven by 'the presence of voices in the absence of justice', what creative, ethical and personal challenges arise from exploring a painful and unresolved historical moment?
Jay Bernard is a writer from London. Their work is interdisciplinary, critical, queer and rooted in the archive. They won the 2018 Ted Hughes Award for 'Surge: Side A', a cross-disciplinary exploration of the New Cross Fire in 1981. 'Surge' is out with Chatto & Windus in 2019

Brigid McLeer
Brigid will present her long-form memorial art project 'N scale' made in response to a devastating fire in the factories of Kader Industrial, Thailand in 1993 which killed 188 people, mostly young women. Addressing issues of globalisation, supply-chain ethics and the capacity of art to care,the presentation will reflect on the ethics, politics and aesthetics of 'N scale'and include a time-based 'emblem' inspired by 19th trade union and workers' association emblems.
Brigid McLeer is an Irish artist based in London. Her performance lecture 'The Triumph of Crowds' was selected as winner of the Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Performance Writers in 2016. She is currently studying for a PhD by practice in Fine Art at the Royal College of Art, London. See and

Chair: Ade Solanke
Ade Solanke is an award-winning British-Nigerian playwright, screenwriter and academic. She is a Lecturer in Dramatic Writing at University of Greenwich. Her current project, Phillis in London, a play about Phillis Wheatley, the first black woman to publish a collection of poetry in English, dramatises African art and creativity in the midst of the trauma of slavery.

Panel 3: 16.45-17.45

Gavin Rand
Can famine be a strategy of genocide? Gavin will focus on the Irish and Indian famines and ask how they are linked historically and conceptually to other forms of violence associated with European colonialism. If famines are 'wars over the right to existence', how did empire shape contemporary responses to famine and its effects?
Dr Gavin Rand is Principal Lecturer in History at the University of Greenwich. His work explores the histories of empire, colonialism and violence in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is currently writing a cultural history of the imperial military after 1857, and has worked previously on frontiers, race and colonial recruiting.

Emily Mark-Fitzgerald
Emily will speak on the subject of 'Remembering Famine Migrations: Monuments and Meaning' outlining how communities and individuals in Ireland and its diaspora have commemorated the famine via public monuments since the 1990s. In particular, she will discuss the construction of monuments as a form of public performance, through which political ideologies and struggles with contemporary collective identities are made visible.
Dr Emily Mark-FitzGerald is Associate Professor in the School of Art History and Cultural Policy at University College Dublin, where her scholarship concerns the visual culture of famine, poverty, migration, and diaspora; memory, commemoration and public art; and Irish cultural policy and institutions.

Louisa Fairclough
As I sleep, my twin sister is sleeping on the far bank. My sleep is provisional, hers is final. She is my mute collaborator, but my collaborator nonetheless. We meet in darkness. Calling across to her, I think I hear her voice. In 'The Length of a Breath and the Weight of Grief', Louisa discusses the use of tidal water, voice and light as material in an attempt to describe distance, time and emotion in physical terms: the filmstrip as a measurement of the time it takes for the bore tide to pass, the length of a breath and the weight of grief.
Since 2010 Louisa Fairclough has been exploring the potential of voice and its resonance in varying spaces: from the Severn riverbank to the edge of the Thames Estuary, from a stairwell to the ruins of a former psychiatric hospital. Fairclough often collaborates with composer Richard Glover and with singers who perform sustained vocal gestures; they are currently working on Feel Stupid, a commission for Plymouth College of Art Gallery.

Chair: Margareta Kern
Margareta Kern is a visual artist whose work responds to urgent political questions, often drawing on her personal history shaped by migration and conflict. Current projects deal with the politics of making visible new systems of power and violence emerging from surveillance capitalism. Kern is an artist-in-residence at Birkbeck School of Law and a lecturer at Falmouth University. She came to the UK fleeing the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Drinks and Canapés Reception


Performance of Famished by Cherry Smyth, with Lauren Kinsella, Aoife Casby and Ed Bennett



21.00 ENDS