Visual artist Leah Hilliard announces the premiere of ‘KATHLEEN’ celebrating the remarkable story of Meath-born activist and journalist Kathleen Napoli McKenna

Kathleen Napoli McKenna (1897-1988) born in Oldcastle, Co. Meath, was a witness and a contributor to one of the most significant times in Ireland’s history. In her work producing the Irish Bulletin for the Propaganda Department of the first Dáil, she showed bravery, resourcefulness and dexterity. During the War of Independence, the London treaty negotiations, and the Civil War, she had confidential and volatile information at her fingertips. She was twenty-two.

‘KATHLEEN’ by award-winning Irish artist and educator Leah Hilliard celebrates her remarkable story. A bespoke textile work is realised on a billboard located at the roundabout on Railway Street, Navan, with a QR code linking to a video spoken-word piece.

Digitisation of the original textile work, draws attention to the evidence of the human hand; ‘KATHLEEN’ is an individual act of making, just as the Irish Bulletin was.

“The Irish Bulletin was about to carry to the world authentic news of our country. With an air of self-satisfaction [Arthur] Griffith said I was to be its godmother. During the twenty terror-filled months in which, on point of honour, its publication never once failed. I guarded my godchild with jealous affection.” – Kathleen Napoli McKenna

Leah Hilliard said, “I was particularly struck by the references to the skill and dexterity of Kathleen Napoli McKenna in laying out type. So much of the labour and success of campaigning involves intense and repetitive tasks that not only reinforce the bonds of the cause but also foster the comradeship needed to sustain commitment. The back of a piece of embroidery can be as revealing as the front; symbolising the way in which history often doesn’t give the full story of a campaign.”

Leah Hilliard’s work is based in performance, engaging with public space, and involves spoken word, fabric and installation. With a background in event management and public art commissioning, her practice explores her long-standing interests in technology and society, particularly in relation to the lives of women and the ways in which women create formal and informal networks for the transfer of information.

The billboard on Railway Street will be displayed between 28 April – 19 May 2022.
Leah Hilliard was awarded the ‘Meath County Council Cultural Services Kathleen McKenna Award’ in 2021. This award is supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Decade of Centenaries 2012 – 2023 initiative.

LINK TO VIEW VIDEO (premieres Thu 28 April 2022): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8okKFmfHRD8

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