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  • News

Amulet exhibition is a big tribute to ten little lives

Monday, 20th October, 2014 4:50pm
Amulet exhibition is a big tribute to ten little lives

By Ailin Quinlan

To you or me, it’s a simple little yellow cardigan, but to mother-of-six Mary Sexton it’s far more than that. It’s an amulet.

Later this month, an image of the tiny baby’s cardigan, which lies carefully folded in a cupboard in the Sexton home in the West Cork village of Timoleague, will be among those on display in a new exhibition which sheds light on the often hidden pain of losing a child.

The display, which runs in Cork’s City Hall until January, features a total of 10 mementos, or amulets, as part of the national tour of The Amulet exhibition, which explores family bereavement and the loss of a baby.

The yellow cardigan, which is one of the images displayed, belongs to Brian Sexton, who was born a month prematurely in March 2010, and died shortly after his birth.

His mother Mary knitted the cardigan for him, and later agreed to participate in the project after she was contacted by a staff member at CUMH who explained that West Cork artist, Marie Brett, was creating artwork in collaboration with some bereaved parents.

‘I decided to participate in the project and I selected a little yellow cardigan that I had knitted for him – it was way too big for him because he was so tiny!

‘I was interviewed by Marie. She took pictures of the cardigan. I’d always knitted for my children and I had had this cardigan ready for him,’ she explains.

‘Participating in this project helped with the grieving and with coming to terms with the loss of Brian. You never accept it, but it helped to deal with the grief.’

Mary was one of several bereaved parents from around Ireland – two of them are from the West Cork region – who worked with Brett to talk about an amulet they possessed which has great personal significance in relation to the loss of their baby.

The project was based around three hospitals, CUMH, University Maternity Hospital Limerick, and Waterford Regional Hospital.

Brett recorded the individual stories behind the 10 chosen amulets and these, together with the images, formed the basis for the artwork.

The idea for the project came from research carried out by the Bantry artist while acting as a resident artist in CUMH between 2009 and 2011.

As part of her work she looked at the area of family bereavement, particularly in relation to the death of babies and young children.

‘The time the families spent in hospital is short, but the impact of losing a child lasts a lifetime. This was what came out of the research,’ she recalls, adding that she started the Amulet Project in 2012.

The work, which lasted for 12 months, finished in early 2013. ‘I decided to ask family members to work with me, by bringing in a special object from home which symbolised the death of their child.

‘These included identity bracelets, a little cardigan, and a CD of music.

‘Each object formed the centrepiece of a particular artwork. I would meet each family and they would show me the object, which I would photograph and they would explain why it was important to them,’ she says, adding that each art installation comprises a photograph of the item and a pair of headphones which the visitor puts on to listen to the story behind the item.

There are 10 items in total, mounted in frames and sitting on tables.

The exhibition, which has already visited Glaway and Limerick, will tour to three venues in Cork from now until January: Cork City Hall, Bishopstown Library and the Cork Public Museum.

The exhibition will be at The Atrium, Cork City Hall, until November 28.