What might a feminist approach to Brexit and the Irish border look like? In 2017 Northern Irish artist Rita Duffy created an artwork across the Blacklion-Belcoo Bridge, which straddles the Irish-Northern Irish border. Soften the Border (2017) brought together women’s groups from either side to knit brightly-coloured dolls and cushions and installed them on site. How might the work testify to the ties between those living over or between national boundaries? What does it mean for Northern Irish and Irish women to weave and stitch together such a display of collectivity amidst a climate of right-wing political rhetoric demanding the UK ‘take back control’ and seal its borders? At a time when Brexiteers have been publicly denouncing the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for fear it undermines their desire for a ‘clean break’ from the EU, what are the stakes for the Northern Irish peace process? How much are our historical ideas of ‘sovereignty’ interwoven with concepts of (military) masculinity – and could Soften the Border offer an urgent and vital opportunity to rethink both?
Rita Duffy is one of Northern Ireland’s foremost artists, renown for her feminist work on the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ (1968-98) and Irish history. She received her BA and MA in Fine Art from the University of Ulster. In 1990 she was awarded the Gold Medal at the Royal Ulster Academy, in 2005 she was an Associate Reader at Goldsmiths, and between 2009-10 she held a Leverhulme Fellowship with the Transitional Justice Institute (Ulster University), researching the role of visual art in post-conflict societies. Her work has been exhibited internationally, from the Belfast’s Ulster Museum and Dublin’s Hugh Lane, to London’s Flowers Gallery and Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art.