“My class leader accused me of depravity and rudeness”

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Dalí was a bit rude, wasn’t he? So says an American visitor standing behind me in the sunny lobby of the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museumplaced in the bowels of the artist’s birthplace of Figueres, in Catalonia.

It’s fitting that this icon’s birthplace translates to ‘fig trees’, as Dalí’s eclectic output was undeniably fruitful and ‘a bit crude’, according to this unimpressed reviewer, who now disappears into the crypt below. Dalí’s paintings clearly reflect his obsession with sex – subjects like impotence, personal pleasure, voyeurism and sadomasochism are commonplace in his work.

As I navigate the labyrinthine space of the museum (designed by the artist himself), I accept that the aforementioned woman, with her chunky Texas sled, is right. No matter where I turn, the naked form stares at me. This extensive nudity – often depicting the Spaniard’s wife and muse, Gala – suddenly brings up memories of my school days when I outraged teachers by exploring my identity as a gay teenager while taking a similar approach to Dali.

Domhnall O’Donoghue at the Dali Theatre-Museum.

Original sin

I was 13 years old and the artistic mission was to incorporate our names into familiar images, such as football shirts or technical devices. However, I found my inspiration in the Bible. Specifically, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

With verdant trees floating on the horizon, my naked figures stood coquettishly next to a red apple – my name emblazoned, like a serpent, through it. Some might complain that the characters border on cartoonish, but I was sure it would be considered a spirited effort. However, like Adam eating the forbidden fruit, my creation would have calamitous consequences.

Despite my youth, I had acquired knowledge of art thanks to my older brother, Darragh, now an archivist at the Tate gallery in London. I remember being intrigued by Dalí’s vivid motifs: eggs, melting clocks and, of course, nudity. As a young gay artist, I lacked technique, but studying Dalí’s dreamlike work I realized that imagination and tenacity were just as important when creating compositions – skills I had at the time. shovel.

Nevertheless; my works influenced by Dalí, Original sin was not well received by my stunned teacher, who immediately sent for reinforcements. With the fury of a biblical storm, my class leader accused me of depravity and rudeness – but channeling Jesus Christ, I refused to recant. “Look at those footprints! I argued, pointing to the natural surrounding masterpieces hanging on the walls, including David and The birth of Venus. “Do you compare that to Michelangelo and Botticelli? she fired back.

Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the director, clearly exhausted from overseeing the daily exploits of 800 teenagers. He asked me to confess my transgression to my parents – unaware that they had spent years cultivating a love of art in my siblings and me. The next morning, when I revealed that my perplexed father had encouraged me to hold on, the principal threatened expulsion unless I created a more innocuous portrayal. If I had a palette handy, the only color I would have identified with was red; I was livid.

As I ping-ponged between the staff, my painting Original sin suspiciously disappeared. Skilfully assuming the role of martyr, I boldly composed a second image – Jesus crucified on the cross, DOMHNALL replacing INRI. Imagine my surprise when my class leader deemed it a “significant improvement”, bringing the whole saga to an abrupt end.

express yourself

Rather than watching Original sin as an act of youthful rebellion, I now feel it highlights the struggles the queer community once faced to speak out. I cannot overstate the endless challenges we had to overcome in Ireland in the 80s and 90s, held hostage by the church. Until the age of 11, it was a criminal act for men to engage in consensual sexual activity, when the AIDS pandemic was often seen as punishment for our “sins”. With hormones and anxieties raging, art in its many forms helped me challenge the status quo and challenge oppressive teachings that same-sex relationships were the work of the devil – a mantra in my religious class .

The Dali Theatre-Museum.
The Dali Theatre-Museum.

Suppose staff members viewed my creative efforts as cues about a teenage crisis rather than immaturity, the later school years might have been easier.

Today, at the Dalí Theatre-Museum, which welcomes 1.3 million visitors every year, I discover that the death of the artist’s brother had a strong influence on his work. This idea confirms one of the many benefits of art: it offers cathartic opportunities to translate the pressures of our hearts and minds into something tangible, inspiring and, at times, provocative. As I exit the building, I stand in front of the church that oversaw Dalí’s baptism, communion and funeral, and reflect on the many positive changes in Catholic Ireland. And while I cannot speak for the current cohort of gay students – who, no doubt,
continue to overcome obstacles daily – I am encouraged by the progress our community and allies have made over my lifetime. Highlights undoubtedly include the historic referendum on same-sex marriage and the Gender Recognition Act.

Few could have imagined that Ireland’s first Pride, which took place in Dublin in 1983, a few months after I was born, would become the national event it is today. To quote my former class leader, gay rights in Ireland have certainly seen “significant improvement” over the last few decades – and I think it’s important to recognize that progress.

  • The UP Cork Youth Project supports LGBTI+ people aged 15-24, using mediums such as art and theatre. It offers a drop-in service every Wednesday between 4pm and 7pm at the South Parish Community Centre, Cork. Visit facebook.com/upcorklgbtyyouth
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