About the research

I started this research project in September 2018, looking at the impact of artist-led organisations on the wider art ecosystem, and their connection with social justice, civic action and activism in the island of Ireland. 

The island of Ireland has a long history of political and social changes. This environment has been an interesting terrain for the inception of experimental art projects, activism initiatives led by artists and artists’ groups. The variety of cultural production and civic agitation forms an important part of contemporary art practices and social movements history, an aspect that has been often underrepresented in the current literature. This project aims to fill this vacuum, producing research on this alternative history - through the investigation, mapping and comparison of grassroots women-led and artist-led initiatives with a focus on social and civil justice in the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland through a feminist lens. 

I have located three key women-led and/or feminist-led groups connected with the island of Ireland around the late 80s and early 90s: The Irish Women Artist Group (London), the Northern Irish Women Artists Group (Belfast) and the Women Artists Action Group (Dublin, all-Ireland). Rooted at the local level and consciously allied with the international social movements, these artists-led initiatives aimed to establish a community of women artists, creating exhibitions opportunities and initiating political discourses around the conditions of women - giving their struggle visibility and credibility, outside their own community circles. Their names and herstories still occupy a marginal - if nonexistent - place in the current literature on the island of Ireland artist-led collective history and feminist scholarship; in contrast with the fact that many of the artists involved in these groups at the start of their career, are now established and internationally recognised arts professionals. This practice-based research fills this gap, articulating for the first time the crucial role played by feminist-led and women-led advocacy groups based or connected with the island of Ireland; with the objective of reclaiming these for too-long overlooked herstories, while disseminating the research findings through widely accessible outputs.

Informed an array of feminist-informed and artist-led methodologies; the research avails of selected interviews with key artists collaborators, which had been artists/arts professionals directly involved in the case studies, giving them agency on the narration of their lived experience. Through this web platform, I am drawing attention to the power of activating artists/activists’ archival practices as a necessary strategy to tell herstories, validating personal experiences and complex political/cultural identities, thus challenging discourses of exclusion and omissions.

Feminist-led and women-led artists initiatives have been playing a crucial role in addressing social and political issues and in the development island of Ireland's feminist-led self-organising, collaborating and resisting; which legacy still informs today's collective and artistic practices.

About the researcher

I am a visual artist and PhD researcher based in Ulster University, Belfast School of Art. I moved to the North of Ireland in 2016 and since then I have been involved in various artist-led initiatives based in Belfast, including Catalyst Arts (former co-director), Soft Fiction Projects (co-founder and co-director), and Array Collective, winner of the 2021 Turner Prize.

About the collaborators


Anne Tallentire (b. 1949, County Armagh, Northern Ireland) lives and works in London, UK. Her practice encompasses moving image, sculpture, installation, performance, and photography. Through visual and textual interrogation of everyday materials and structures, Tallentire’s work seeks to reveal systems that shape the built environment and the economics of labour. Her recent work has examined geographical dislocation and demarcation in relation to infrastructure. From 1993, Tallentire has also made work as part of the artist duo work-seth/tallentire with artist John Seth. She is also the co-organiser, with Chris Fite-Wassilak, of the peripatetic event series ‘hmn’.

Tallentire has exhibited internationally. Recent solo shows included But this material…, The MAC, Belfast, Ireland (2021); As happens, Hollybush Gardens, London (2020); Plan (…), Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria (2019); Shelter, Nerve Centre and Eighty81, both Londonderry, Northern Ireland, Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and FabLab Limerick, Ireland (all 2016); This and Other Things, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2010); and Irish Pavilion, 48th Venice Biennale (1999), among others. Her work is held in significant public collections. In 2018 Tallentire was the recipient of a Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists. She is Professor Emerita at Central Saint Martins, where she taught from the early 1990s to 2014. She is represented by the Hollybush Gardens Gallery in London.

Source: <https://hollybushgardens.co.uk/artists/anne-tallentire/>


Dr Fionna Barber is Reader in Art History in the Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Fionna Barber previously worked as an Associate Lecturer for The Open University in the Faculty of Arts and tutored students in the Compounds and H Blocks of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison and in Portlaoise Prison 1987-1990. She lectured in the History of Art in Belfast College of Art between 1985 and 1993 before moving to England to lecture in Contextual Studies at the Manchester School of Art.

She has published extensively on modernism and contemporary art, with a particular interest in art in Ireland. She is author of Art in Ireland since 1910 (Reaktion Books 2013), co-editor of Ireland and the North (Peter Lang 2019) and co-editor of ‘Brexit Wounds: cultural responses to leaving the European Union’, a special edition of Open Arts Journal (December 2019). In 2009 she curated the touring exhibition Archiving Place and Time: contemporary art in Northern Ireland since the Belfast Agreement (Holden Gallery Manchester School of Art, Millennium Court Arts Centre Portadown, Wolverhampton Art Gallery). In 2019-20 she curated Elliptical Affinities (​​Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda and Limerick City Art Gallery).

Her current research is focused on three main areas: contemporary women’s painting, the work of women artists in Ireland after 1916, and the relationship between art, temporality and the politics of the female body.

Source: Barber, Fionna, Elliptical Affinities: Irish Women Artists and the Politics of the Body 1985-present: Exhibition Catalogue, Highlanes Gallery 2020; p.14.


Born in Co.Cork in 1963, Walsh completed her Diploma in Fine Art at the Crawford School of Art and Design in 1985 and completed her MFA in sculpture at the University of Ulster in 1986.  Walsh’s many public artworks were often negotiated through the participation of various constituencies and communities through dialogue, participatory, and collaborative as well as educational practices. Her site - specific sculptural interventions interrogate queer,  intersectional feminist and national identity. Walsh is dedicated to connecting  the viewer’s experience by considering how to contextualise material form and space into a resonate environment. Walsh’s artwork is activated by a drive to explore persisting joy, survival and rebellion, playfully contesting established form and embedded lore. Themes of countercultural activism puncture and transform constricted orthodoxies and are generated through ‘othered’ dynamics of embodied experience and desire.

Her public artwork includes The Hybrid Loveseat (2008)  at James Street, Dublin, Circuit (2001) at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, Sugar and Spice for South Dublin County Council (1999) Lucan, Dublin,  Diving Spectacle (1997) University of Limerick, Terminal 1 Pier 4a at Heathrow Airport, London (1994), Monument to the Unknown Woman Worker (1992) Great Victoria Street, Belfast.

Her work has been shown in IMMA, Kilmainham Gaol, Temple Bar Gallery, Limerick City Gallery, Belltable Gallery, the Highlanes Gallery, the Crawford Gallery, Tate Liverpool. Street Level Gallery (Glasgow), Kunstlerhaus, Graz (Austria)  the Orchard Gallery and The Void Gallery (Derry) and the McMullen Museum of Art (Boston, USA).

She has taught and consulted extensively in Universities and Art Colleges in Ireland and the UK. Walsh’s work is in national collections such as IMMA and The Crawford Gallery. She lives on the border between Meath and Cavan.

Source: <https://www.louisewalshartist.com/>


Alice Maher (born 1956, Co. Tipperary, Ireland) studied at Ulster University and at the San Francisco Art Institute. The media she chooses vary depending on her subject matter, ranging from painting to drawing to sculpture and from engraving to photography to installation. Her work Cell, a ball of thorns, has occupied one of the cells of the Kilmainham prison in Dublin since 1991. Keep (1992), a net woven from human hair, has been shown in Belfast and Cork. Inspired by nature, her childhood, and Greek, Latin, Irish, and universal transformation myths, she develops a sculptural work based on collected items, as can be seen in Berry Dress (1994) and Nettle Coat (1995). The way she re-appropriates everyday objects, plays on confusion, and questions the memory and cultural associations of materials places her work in the lineage of Surrealism. She draws references both from modernism and ancient arts, as well as from medieval times, the Renaissance, decorative arts, folklore, and feminism.

Maher was part of the Artist for Repeal the 8th Campaign. Recent work includes ‘The Map’ (2021), a large textile-based piece made in collaboration with artist Rachel Fallon and commissioned by RuaRed, Dublin.

Souce: <https://awarewomenartists.com/en/artiste/alice-maher/?from=search>


Una Walker is an artist and academic. She has exhibited extensively in Ireland, the UK, Europe, and internationally for over thirty years. The main focus of her work is site-specific installations, several of which have been commissioned for fortifications in Ireland, Scotland and Finland, and for an empty garment factory in Poland. Her video and audio works have been included in international festivals: Obsession Festival Turkey; LUX London; and Soundworks, Cork. She was a Research Fellow at NCAD from 2008-2016.

Source: <https://www.unawalker.com/home>


Pauline Cummins’ performance and video work examines the human condition from a feminist perspective. Research driven themes of the political body, activism, human rights and gender are often explored in the artist’s practice. Cummins likes to collaborate with artists and communities in public sites and situations; including within prisons as a visiting artist and was the founding chairperson of the Women Artists Action Group, (WAAG). Cummins lectured at the National College of Art and Design from 1994 – 2014. Her work is in both national and international collections including The Irish Museum of Modern Art and the National Maternity Hospital. Commissions include the Newgrange Interpretive Centre, New St. Park (Dublin) and the National Maternity Hospital. Recent exhibitions include The Narrow Gate of the Here-and-Now, Protest and Conflict, IMMA.

Source: <https://www.paulinecummins.com/>

About the case studies

Irish Women Action Group [IWAG]

An informal collective of women Irish artists or women artists from the Irish diaspora living in London and UK. The group was born in response to the lack of representation of Irish Women artists in feminist-led projects, such as the Women Artists’ Library slide bank.

Location: London & UK
Years of activity: 1986-1987
Members Interviewed: Anne Tallentire 

Self-organised projects: Eye to Eye, slide show & two-days conference, Battersea Art Centre, London 1986; Prism I and II, group exhibitions, London Irish Women’s Centre, London 1986; Off the Map, group exhibition, Chiesenhale Gallery, London 1987.

Northern Irish Women Action Group [NIWAG]

An advocacy group of women artists/arts professionals and women artists/arts professionals based in the North of Ireland, which later became a regional branch of the Women’s Action Artist Group [WAAG], who were based in the Republic of Ireland.

Location: Belfast and the North of Ireland 
Years of activity: 1987-1988
Members Interviewed: Una Walker, Louise Walsh, Fionna Barber, Alice Maher

Self-organised projects: Women and the Visual Image, talks, performances and WEA day school, Art and Research Exchange, Belfast 1987; Identities, group exhibition, talks and performances, Art and Research Exchange, Belfast 1988; W.A.A.G Seminar (with WAAG), Orchard Gallery, Derry 1988. 

Women Artist Action Group [WAAG]

A constituted association of women artists/arts-professionals based in the island of Ireland, subdivided in regional branches, advocating for the recognition of women’s representation in the arts. The organisation was part of the International Association of Women Artists, an European-wide initiative to support its members’ artistic development. 

Location: Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast (from 1988), and the Republic of Ireland
Years of activity: 1987-1991
Members Interviewed: Una Walker, Louise Walsh, Fionna Barber, Alice Maher, Pauline Cummins.

Self-organised projects: WAAG I, group exhibition, Guinness Hop House, Dublin 1987; W.A.A.G Seminar (with NIWAG), Orchard Gallery, Derry 1988; WAAG II: Art Beyond Barriers, group exhibition, Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin 1989; Women Artists and the Environment, International conference, commission of site specific installations, performances, IMMA, Dublin 1991. 

Other organisations/groups 

ARE / Art and Research Exchange
DVFC /  Derry Video and Film Collective (also known as Derry Video and Film Workshop )
IAWA /  International Association of Women Artists
IWIG / Irish Women in Islington Group
LIWC /  London Irish Women Centre
WASL / Women Artist Slide Library
WEA / Workers’ Educational Association
WN / Women’s News

Get involved!

If you are an artist or arts professional that was involved in WAAG, NIWAG or IWAG and you would like to share your personal experience, please get in touch at cargnelli-a@ulster.ac.uk.