Helena Walsh

Current Work: Occupied Bodies


Photography Joseph Carr
next image>>
<<back to home page         

Invisible Stains is a durational performance that considers the labour, losses and political whitewashing experienced by the women incarcerated within the Republic of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries. It further explores the symbolism of the Magdalen Laundries in relation to the ongoing moral containment of female sexuality in contemporary Ireland where women are continually denied reproductive autonomy.

The Magdalen Laundries were convents run by female Catholic religious congregations that operated for-profit industrial laundries. Women deemed morally impure, such as unmarried mothers or women simply unwanted by society were detained in the convent compounds. Mothers placed in the Magdalen Laundries were separated from their babies who were often forcibly adopted. Women were also placed in the Magdalen Laundries by the criminal justice system and state-regulated Catholic residential schools. Women detained in these institutions were forced to endure a regime of silence, prayer and slave labour in the industrial laundries.

Magdalen Laundries developed from asylums concerned with the moral reform of prostitution. After the partition of Ireland and the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 these institutions became less concerned with rehabilitation and more restrictive in nature. Ten Magdalen Laundries operated throughout the twentieth century postcolonial Irish state, with many centrally located in Irish cities. Since the closure of the last Magdalen Laundry in 1996, the women detained in these punitive systems of gendered degradation have battled for redress from the Irish state. In 2011 in response to the criticism of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), the Irish state established an inquiry into state involvement in the Magdalen Laundries. Following the publication of the McAleese Report in February 2013, the Irish state finally apologised for its complicity in sustaining the Magdalen Laundries. However, the report excludes multiple survivor testimonies, in turn, downplaying the human rights abuses experienced by women in the Magdalen Laundries. Thus, a full independent inquiry into the Magdalen Laundries is still required.

Invisible Stains has been performed in numerous events including Right Here, Right Now, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin (2010), Transversal, Dublin (2010), Response, Landguard Fort, (2010), I’m With You, (2010) and The Fringe Out West, Strokestown Park House and The National Famine Museum of Ireland, (2011). The images displayed here are documentation of Invisible Stains at Right Here, Right Now, which took place in Dublin’s historic Kilmainham Gaol. Kilmainham Gaol operated as a prison from 1780s until the 1920s, including some of the most turbulent years for the struggle for independence. Leaders of the 1916 Rising were executed here, as were those who fell foul of the fledging Irish Free State government during Ireland's Civil War 1922-23. It now operates as a tourist site and houses a museum of nationalist history. On the 4th November 2010, as part of Right Here, Right Now twenty artists from the North and South of Ireland performed simultaneously in the East Wing of the prison for four hours.