Rupture and Call: Famine Encounters from Contemporary Irish and Ukrainian Women in the Arts


  • Emily Holt Seattle Pacific University
  • Grace Mahoney University of Michigan



In this paper, the authors examine artistic engagement with famine memory by six women artists working in the Irish and Ukrainian contexts: Alanna O’Kelly, Paula Meehan, Mary McIntyre, Oksana Zabuzhko, Nataliia Vorozhbyt, and Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak. Representing famine in artistic form is mired in ethical challenges. When interpreted at the level of national narratives, such histories can become identities and form a part of the collective ethos. Work by women artists is critically positioned to challenge the strong association between the feminine and the nation found in nationalistic discourses in both Ireland and Ukraine. The artists examined here work across genre and media, yet all eschew stereotypical imagery and prescribed vocabulary for representing famine, thus engaging in the complexities such representation offers. Framing their analysis with Bracha Ettinger’s concept of aesthetic wit(h)nessing, the authors find in the work of contemporary female artists in Ireland and Ukraine opportunities to encounter and grapple with famine memory without immediate recourse to commemoration or resolution. It is thus in the work of women artists today that one finds both a rupture and a call: a rupture to representing famine memory in modes that promote ownership and invite appropriation, and a call to consider what practices, rituals, and acts of wit(h)nessing have sustained life and remembered the dead after famine.


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