Betty O’Brien, Donaghmore, Trudy Nealon, Portlaoise, Lorcan Fitzpatrick, Durrow participated in the project. Picture: Annie Holland
Laois artist Annie Holland exhibited her work 'Children of the Free State', an artistic perspective on the ‘disappearing’ way of rural Irish life in the 21st Century with a photographic series of portraits of elderly, rural people accompanied by a short film in summer of 2020 at Dunamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise.
Using photography and film Annie focused on how the process of documentation and storytelling can itself create space, physically and emotionally for meaningful dialogue around stories - past and present.
In 2020 when the pandemic first began, Annie set out to create a new body of work titled 'Coping with Covid' with the very same participants from her 'Children of the Free State' project.
Since March 2020 all daycare centres at nursing units throughout Laois have been closed. For those living in rural isolation, many too old to drive anymore and some without children living nearby, the invaluable social outlet of the daycare centre has been temporarily closed to them as a safeguarding measure for their own protection.
Initially, Annie began this project as a means to re-engage with the elderly and provide them with a platform to voice their worries and concerns.
The 'Coping with Covid' initiative also includes an urban slant and Annie has met and interviewed members of the Portlaoise Active Retirement Group who spoke about their loneliness and frustration during this time of physical and social isolation. The group spoke highly of the support and assistance they have received from Laois Sports Partnership since March 2020 and the subsequent Covid-19 challenges.
Annie accompanied Portlaoise Active Retirement Group members out walking.
“I am impressed with their friendly positive outlook and their commitment to enhance well-being and mobility,” she said.
“Even when people can’t meet up in person Laois Sports Partnership continues to help by facilitating online support through Zoom at least twice weekly and supplying well-being manuals and exercise DVD’s.”
As 2020 progressed it became obvious that Covid-19 was taking its toll on all ages in society and in particluar young people were missing out on quite a number of rites of passage. Access to education socialising in pods, mask wearing and home-schooling have become isolating experiences for many teenagers.
The constant worry that they might transmit Covid-19 to an older family member whilst also being mindful to look after their own mental health.
“In order to document the diversity of Covid-19 impacts, I have extended the remit of the 'Coping with Covid' project to include participants of all ages and from all backgrounds to explore and capture how all of our society is coping during this strange period in our history,” said Annie.
'Coping with Covid', a participatory art project will culminate in a visual document: a short film and series of photographic portraits, documenting first-hand accounts (positive and negative) of people in Laois living within this pandemic.
If you have a story that you would like to share please contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
County Librarian Bernie Foran said: “Laois County Library Service is delighted to support Annie Holland’s 'Coping with Covid' project as part of our Keep Well Campaign programme. This creative project provides an alternative platform for people in the county to voice their experiences of living through this pandemic.
"This social history will be captured through visuals and sound and when the project is completed, it will be available to the public at Laois Local Studies," she said www.laoislocalstudies.ie.”
'Coping with Covid by Annie Holland' would like to acknowledge the funding it has received from the KEEP WELL Campaign, which is brought to you with thanks to Healthy Ireland, an initiative of the Government of Ireland with funding from the Healthy Ireland Fund and the Sláintecare Fund delivered by Pobal, administered by Laois County Council, and Healthy Ireland Laois. Thanks also to the support of Laois County Library Service, Laois/Offaly ETB, Laois Partnership, Laois Sports Partnership and FBD Insurance.
Further information on “Children of the Free State” can be found at www.anniehollandart.com.